Tunisia’s government stumbled deeper into crisis on Wednesday over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after premier Hichem Mechichi fired the health minister amid skyrocketing cases in the North African country.
Mechichi, whose office had announced Faouzi Mehdi’s sacking in a brief statement on Tuesday evening, slammed the minister’s performance, pinpointing a critical lack of oxygen 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.
Tunisia has been facing an overwhelming Covid-19 caseload that has left more than 17,000 people dead in a population of around 12 million.
The country’s hospitals have faced acute shortages of oxygen, staff and intensive care beds, and fewer than eight percent of the population are fully vaccinated.
Mehdi’s sacking came a day after the start of a temporary opening of vaccination stations to those over 18, to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival.
But that led to stampedes at some of the 29 vaccination centres, where jab stocks quickly ran dry.
Mechichi slammed the 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.
But 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.