TUNISIA – Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, has fired Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi, amid escalating coronavirus cases in the North African country.

The ministry said earlier this month that Tunisia’s health system had “collapsed” under the weight of the pandemic, which has caused more than 17,000 deaths in a population of around 12 million.

Mechichi’s office announced Mehdi’s sacking in a brief statement Tuesday, without giving a reason for the move.

A government statement said the minister of social affairs, Mohamed Trabelsi, has been appointed as caretaker of the position.  

Mehdi had initiated a temporary opening of vaccination stations to all Tunisians over 18 for Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to stampedes.

The ministry finally restricted access to vaccination to those aged over 40 on Wednesday to avoid a new rush.

Mehdi’s sacking is another instance of instability in a government that has seen several ministers resign over tensions with parliament and the presidency.

Tunisia’s Health Ministry has reported that the coronavirus has claimed at least 17,644 lives in the North African nation, which has also seen over 548,750 cases so far.

Health ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya said on July 8 the health situation was catastrophic, telling a local radio station that unfortunately, the health system had collapsed.

Some bodies of Covid victims have been left lying in rooms next to other patients for up to 24 hours, because there were not enough staff to organize their transfer to overstretched mortuaries.

The health ministry’s Facebook page said special field hospitals set up in recent months are no longer enough.

Following Ben Alya’s announcement, the government of war-torn neighboring Libya said it had decided to close their shared border and suspend air links with Tunisia for a week.

Countries from Gulf states to former colonial power France and even cash-strapped Mauritania have sent medical aid.

Since June 20, authorities have imposed a total lockdown on six regions and a partial lockdown in the capital.

Tunisians have lived through a decade of political instability and economic crisis since their 2011 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leaving vital public services crumbling.

Would you like to get regular updates of such news articles? Subscribe to our HealthCare Africa News, email newsletters, which provide the latest news insights from Africa and the World’s health, pharma and biotech industry. SUBSCRIBE HERE