Coronavirus continues to spread in Tunisia, despite mosque and café closures

Large numbers of Tunisians aren’t respecting the measures put in place to try to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photos and screengrabs from social media)
Large numbers of Tunisians aren’t respecting the measures put in place to try to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photos and screengrabs from social media)

Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh announced on March 13 a series of restrictive measures to try and curb the spread of coronavirus. All mosques were shut down and group prayers suspended. Cafés and restaurants must shut their doors at 4pm every day. The only flights allowed are those repatriating Tunisians trapped abroad. Even so, our Observers say that many people aren’t respecting social distancing and self isolation advice.

On March 18, Tunisia reported 29 cases of coronavirus.

Though Tunisia’s mosques have closed their doors, daily calls to prayer are still ringing out over the city from the mosques’ loudspeakers. After hundreds of Tunisians took to social media to ask mosques to broadcast recitations of the Koran, many imams have started sharing safety advice and special prayers alongside their traditional calls.

In this video (see below), you can hear the imam of the mosque in the Ibn Khaldoun neighborhood in Tunis say: "Oh God, we pray for you to ward off this epidemic across the world.”

Other imams have been reciting the Dhikr, which are rhythmic repetitions of God’s name and his virtues.

Twitter user @AsSulaymi explains in this tweet (translated from French) how large numbers of Tunisians called on mosques to broadcast recitations of the Koran after they were shut in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Les supermarchés pris d'assaut 

Many frightened Tunisians headed to supermarkets to stock up and photos shared on social media show supermarkets jam packed with frantic shoppers. Other photos online show empty supermarket aisles.

Faced with this panic, some supermarkets tried to limit customer’s access.

Customers wait their turn to enter this supermarket in Marsa, a suburb to the north of Tunis.

"Some cashiers were disinfecting money just to be safe”

Sami, who is 38 years old, lives in the coastal town of Mahdia. He said people in his town are panicking.

Yesterday (March 16), supermarket shelves emptied in a single day. There were shortages of cleaning products and popular items like pasta and flour. At the entrance, security guards provided customers with hand sanitizer and all of the employees were wearing gloves. In some groceries, cashiers were disinfecting money just to be safen.

"Les gels désinfectants sont vendus au marché noir"

Mohamed Ali Chtioui, age 35, lives in the capital. He says that some shopkeepers are being extremely greedy during this period of crisis:

Shopkeepers are exploiting the absence of government regulations to increase their profits during this crisis. Some supermarkets are completely out of semolina, flour and vegetable oil. I’ve seen customers shouting insults at one another and fights in front of bakeries. As for hand sanitizer, they are being sold on the black market for extremely high prices. Otherwise, you have to know someone who works in a pharmacy to get one.

Social distancing is not really being respected

The ministry for Public Health called on citizens to respect a safe distance to avoid spreading coronavirus. But lots of social media users say that people aren’t really following this rule.

On the 17th of each month, the Tunisian government pays pension and a monthly stipend to elderly people, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. To pick up their payment, they have to go to the post office, which often leads to long queues. This was the case on March 17 in Jendouba, a city in northwestern Tunisia.

A crowd-- mostly made up of elderly people-- gathers in front of a post office in Jendouba, clearly not respecting social distancing measures.

In the town of Rgueb, young volunteers brought chairs and disinfectant products to help elderly people pick up their pensions while still following social distancing measures enacted by authorities.

Young volunteers in the town of Rgueb tried to organize queues of people waiting for their pension payments so that they were following government-mandated social distancing measures.

Of the 29 cases of coronavirus that had been recorded in Tunisia on March 18, 17 had likely been infected abroad while 12 had been infected locally.

In an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh announced on March 16 that he was planning to employ security forces to ensure that people who had been abroad respected quarantine after reports that some people had not respected instructions to self-isolate. On the evening of March 17, President Kais Saied announced the implementation of a curfew between 6pm and 6am to limit the spread of the virus.

In his daily press briefing on March 16, Minister for Public Health Abdellatif El Mekki said that 5,957 people had been placed in self-isolation and that 2,698 of those people had finished their isolation period.

Article by Omar Tiss