Tunisia is extending its virus curfew and banning demonstrations as it tries to stem a rapid rise in infections and calm tensions after a week of protests over economic troubles.
The government is also forbidding travel between regions and ordering all people over 65 to stay at home as part of stricter virus measures announced by Tunisian Health Ministry spokesperson Nissaf Ben Alaya on Saturday.
Tunisia reported 103 virus-related deaths on Thursday, the highest figure to date in the country of 11 million people. It also has among the highest rates in Africa.
Local media reports cite doctors describing hospitals that are already too full to accept more virus patients.
The rising infections are raising new alarm at a time when the government is facing unrest among youth nationwide over poverty and lack of jobs.
A few hundred protesters gathered Saturday on the central Tunis thoroughfare Avenue Bourguiba to demand the release of those arrested during clashes with police over the past week. Human rights groups say some 1000 people were detained and dozens ordered to be jailed for vandalism and theft.
The protesters denounce what they say are broken economic promises from the government in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings exactly a decade ago.
With a third of young Tunisians out of work, most protesters are disillusioned youth with disparate grievances.
Under the new virus rules, gatherings will be prohibited in public areas until February 14 and the country’s existing 8pm-5am curfew will also be extended till then.
Restaurants and bars will remain closed except for takeaway food.
Ben Alaya threatened “drastic measures” against violators, saying the country is “at a critical juncture” in its battle against COVID-19.
Tunisia has registered 6,092 virus-related deaths and more than 193,000 cases.