Tunisia reports highest COVID death toll since start of pandemic

Authorities record 205 new deaths as hospitals struggle with lack of oxygen supplies and vaccinations remain low.

Tunisia's health ministry recorded on Friday 205 fatalities in the past 24 hours and 6,787 new cases [File: Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters]

Tunisia has registered its highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and vaccine availability remains low.

The country’s health ministry said 205 fatalities had been recorded in the past 24 hours and 6,787 new cases.

The record deaths come amid looming questions over Tunisia’s ability to curb a new wave of infections as intensive care units are filled and hospitals struggle with a lack of oxygen supplies.

Last week, the health ministry warned that the health system had “collapsed” amid a significant influx of patients in hospitals. “The boat is sinking,” Health Ministry Nisaf Ben Alaya said, calling on Tunisians to unite in efforts to combat the pandemic.

The situation is compounded by the slow pace of the vaccination campaign in Tunisia, where only about 13 percent of people have received at least one dose of a two-shot vaccine, according to Our World in Data.

Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receive treatment at the emergency department of Charles Nicolle Hospital in Tunis, Tunisia [File: Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters]

The country of 12 million people has recorded so far 533,274 cases and 17,214 deaths, according to a tally by the John Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that Tunisia was the country with the highest coronavirus mortality rate per capita in the Middle East region and in Africa.

The global health agency also expressed concern over potential “catastrophic consequences” as next week countries across the region will mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which traditionally includes religious and social gatherings where infections could spread.

Overall, the Eastern Mediterranean region is currently experiencing a surge in cases after an eight-week decline in cases and deaths, WHO said.

Besides Tunisia, there had been significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Libya, Iran and Iraq, with sharp rises expected in Lebanon and Morocco.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies