Mechichi slams virus ‘mess,’ fires minister
TUNIS: Tunisia’s government stumbled deeper into crisis on Wednesday over its handling of the coronavirus ( COVID-19) pandemic, ater Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi fired the health minister amid skyrocketing cases in the North African country.
Mechichi, whose office announced Faouzi Mehdi’s firing on Tuesday evening, slammed the minister’s performance, pinpointing oxygen shortages at Tunisian hospitals and a slow rollout of vaccines.
“There’s an extraordinary level of dysfunction at the head of the health ministry,” Mechichi told health officials in footage published on his Facebook page late Tuesday.
Mechichi slammed the hastily arranged programme as “populist” and “criminal.”
“Neither the head of the government nor the governors nor the security services were aware” ahead of time, he said.
Analyst Selim Kharrat suggested that Mehdi had been made a scapegoat.
“There have been contradictory decisions, restrictions haven’t been implemented, and there has been a failure to think ahead,” he said.
“We have a head of government who uses his ministers as fuses, to absorb any public dissatisfaction,” Kharrat said.
“But how long can that last?” Kharrat noted that the health ministry had warned in May over potential oxygen shortages.
Oxygen concentrators sent from France in early June are not yet fully operational due to bureaucratic delays.
Meanwhile Tunisia’s decaying health facilities have been swamped by coronavirus patients.
In some cases, bodies of victims have been let lying in hospital wards next to other patients for up to 24 hours because there were not enough staff to organise transfers to overstretched mortuaries.
Tunisia’s crisis has pushed countries from Arab world to former colonial power France and even cash-strapped Mauritania to send aid.
The government of war-torn neighbour Libya in early July closed their shared border and suspended air links with Tunisia over the rocketing caseload.
Since President Kais Saied was elected in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi.
Their rivalry has blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources away from tackling Tunisia’s multiple economic and social problems.