Gulf Today

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.

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Tunisians, wearing face masks, stand outside a hospital in Tunis on Wednesday.
Associated Press ↑ Tunisians, wearing face masks, stand outside a hospital in Tunis on Wednesday.

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