By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) – Several countries promised to help Tunisia fight the coronavirus on Friday as the north African country recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, putting its health care system under severe stress and depleting oxygen supplies.
President Kais Saied said in a statement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had pledged to send vaccinations and whatever medical equipment Tunisia needed.
Libya also pledged to send medical aid, the president’s office said in a separate statement. Officials and local media said that Kuwait, Turkey and Algeria had promised to help.
Qatar had already sent a military plane with a field hospital on board, including 200 medics and 100 respirators.
After successfully containing the virus in the first wave last year, Tunisia is now grappling with a rise in infections. It imposed a lockdown in some cities starting last week, but rejected a full national lockdown over concerns about the impact on the economy.
Tunisia recorded 189 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year. It reported 8,500 new coronavirus cases.
“We are in a catastrophic situation … the health system has collapsed, we can only find a bed in hospitals with great difficulty,” health ministry spokesperson Nisaf Ben Alaya said.
“We are struggling to provide oxygen … doctors are suffering from unprecedented fatigue,” she said. “The boat is sinking.”
The total number of coronavirus cases so far in Tunisia has climbed to around 480,000, with more than 16,000 deaths.
Vaccinations lag far behind other countries. So far, only 715,000 people have received two doses out of a total of 11.6 million residents.
The president’s office said last week that the United States pledged to donate 500,000 vaccination doses.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)