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After recording  zero local COVID 19 case for almost a month and Tunisia will be the first nation in the North Africa to reopen its borders, on June 27.

In Sousse, Osama Mani, who handles reservations at a major upscale hotel, said locals who rely on tourism were trying to get back on their feet.

“We were expecting a good year, a good season of tourism. But the coronavirus felled these hopes and crushed them,” Mani said. “We are dealing with it step by step now and have brought in a health protocol. Because Tunisia is winning against the coronavirus, I think it will be a good destination for people from all over the world.”

While many other countries continue to struggle against the virus, Mani said Tunisians put down their success in keeping cases of the virus low to their spicy harissa and olive oil.

Tunisia has seen encouraging numbers and it needs them: Tourism accounts for 10% of its GDP and the economy is expected to shrink by 4.3% due to the virus, the steepest drop since independence in 1956.

With only 1,087 confirmed cases as of Friday, June 12, it has seen no new local positive tests since May 19 and no imported cases since June 2, according to World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Inas Hamam.

The WHO praised the country’s early surveillance, tracing and quarantine measures and a comprehensive lockdown introduced in March, when the number of confirmed cases was less than 100, Hamam said. By comparison, Italy did the same when its numbers were at 10,000.

“I think two reasons why countries like Tunisia have done better is: one, people here don’t have a sense of entitlement and they have a sense of community.

But even with so few cases, the government has not considered declaring the country “coronavirus free,” Hamam said.

The government still classifies the state of control of the virus as the WHO’s most serious standard, “community transmission”, meaning widespread, unchecked and uncontrolled.

According to Hamam, this doesn’t reflect the situation. But authorities are being cautious about easing restrictions while many people are not respecting safe behaviours such as wearing masks and physical distancing, she said.

Whether Tunisia’s tourism industry recovers soon also partly depends on when European countries decide to relax restrictions on those travelling abroad.

(Deutsche Welle -Bonn)



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