Yesterday Tunisia's health ministry announced the results of 1,320 Covid-19 tests. Only six were positive and of those, only two were new cases. The other four were re-tests of people previously diagnosed with the virus.
“Our country has succeeded in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic,” prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh said in a televised speech on Wednesday – and from a medical viewpoint he's probably right.
Tunisia has recorded only 1,048 cases since the outbreak began. Today, new cases are few and recoveries (plus a relatively small number of deaths) mean there are just 98 people currently known to be infected.
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The country is now about to enter the second stage in a three-stage lifting of restrictions:
● Nurseries and kindergartens will reopen on Tuesday, though at 50% capacity.
● Secondary school students preparing for baccalaureate exams will resume their classes on Thursday, though the schools will not fully reopen until September.
● Schools will stay closed until September with only baccalaureate preparation classes resuming for a month at the end of May.
● Universities will resume on June 8. Staff and students from areas where this is a "risk" of infection will be tested for the virus.
● Mosques, hotels, restaurants, cafes, museums and cultural centres will reopen on June 4, subject to various safety measures.
● Travel between different provinces, which is currently forbidden, will be allowed from June 14.
Looking further ahead, the government is reportedly working on plans to revive the economy which will be presented to parliament at the end of June. How this will be achieved remains to be seen. The prime minister has specifically said he doesn't want the country to get deeper into debt.
One measure already announced is a loan scheme for the tourism industry which is economically important and has been badly hit.
Hotels that have suffered losses are being offered seven-year loans at 2% interest, with no repayments during the first two years. The scheme is focused on supporting smaller hotels with one to three stars. Five-star hotels are excluded, and those with four stars will be considered "case by case".
While this may help to keep the tourism infrastructure intact there may be a long wait before foreign tourists return in significant numbers.
Middle East updates
A further 11,374 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since yesterday's update.
This is the largest day-on-day increase so far. It includes 2,642 new cases in Saudi Arabia, 2,311 in Iran and 1,830 in Qatar.
The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.
Algeria 7,918 (+190)
Bahrain 8,774 (+600)
Egypt 15,786 (+783)
Iraq 3,964 (+87)
Israel 16,712 (+22)
Jordan 700 (+16)
Kuwait 19,564 (+955)
Lebanon 1,086 (+62)
Libya 72 (+1)
Morocco 7,375 (+164)
Oman 7,257 (+463)
Palestine 602 (-)
Qatar 40,481 (+1,830)
Saudi Arabia 67,719 (+2,642)
Sudan 3,378 (240)
Syria 70 (+12)
Tunisia 1,048 (+2)
UAE 27,892 (+994)
Yemen 213 (+12)
TOTAL: 230,398 (+9,063)
Note: Yemen's total includes four cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country. Palestine's total includes East Jerusalem.
A further 122 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday – 51 of them in Iran, 16 in Sudan and 13 in Saudi Arabia.
The list below shows cumulative totals of reported deaths in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.
Algeria 582 (+7)
Bahrain 12 (-)
Egypt 707 (+11)
Iraq 147 (+7)
Israel 279 (-)
Jordan 9 (-)
Kuwait 138 (+9)
Lebanon 26 (-)
Libya 3 (-)
Morocco 197 (+1)
Oman 34 (+2)
Palestine 4 (-)
Qatar 19 (-)
Saudi Arabia 364 (+13)
Sudan 137 (+16)
Syria 4 (+1)
Tunisia 47 (-)
UAE 241 (+4)
Yemen 34 (-)
TOTAL: 2,984 (+71)
Note: Yemen's total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.
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For anyone interested: A spreadsheet documenting the coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the region each day can be viewed here.