Tunisia recorded no new coronavirus cases for the first time since early March, health authorities announced May 11 and the government in Tunis is preparing to further relax restrictions on movement and businesses.

Tunisia, which reported its first case on March 2, has confirmed 1,032 cases in all and 45 deaths. Some 700 cases are already recovered, bringing the number of active cases down to 287.

“Tunisia is doing well when it comes to the containment of this global pandemic,” said Faouzi Addad, a professor of cardiology at the Abderrahmen Mami Hospital in Ariana. “We have repeatedly tried to understand the real reasons behind this situation but it appears that there are many contributory factors.”

Tunisia, which has about 500 intensive care beds, said there were only 11 patients remain hospitalised.

“In my view, the early imposition of a quarantine in the country, along with closure of schools played a key role in containing COVID-19,” Addad noted. “For Tunisia, the worst seems to have been avoided,” he added. “Now, I hope for Tunisia and its people to take their destiny in hand and try to save their economy, and in particular the key sector of tourism.”

Tunisia started relaxing its coronavirus lockdown on May 4, reopening parts of the food, construction and transport sectors and allowing about half of government employees to return to their jobs. Shopping centres, clothing shops and hairdressers reopened May 11, as the country moves closer to bringing the health crisis under control. However, the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses are still required to stay confined.

Restrictions are expected to be curbed even further by June 14 but that will depend on how the health situation develops, officials said in April, warning that there is an ongoing risk of a second wave of infections.

Nissaf Ben Alaya, the head of the National Observatory for New and Emerging Diseases, reminded Tunisians  that the “respect of targeted quarantine, wearing of masks when outside and adherence to social distancing” will remain necessary to prevent the spread the coronavirus pandemic “until scientists find a viable vaccine or cure.”

Ben Alaya also warned that “signs of improvement in the country remain fragile and subject to change if citizens do not adhere to a preventive and health-conscious behaviour.”

Tunisia expects its economy to  by up to 4.3% this year, the steepest drop since independence in 1956. The tourism sector alone could lose $1.4 billion and 400,000 jobs this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To deal with the economic repercussions of the virus, Tunisia’s Ministry of Finance has launched an electronic platform to receive requests from companies affected by the pandemic and that wish to benefit from the government’s support measures. Since the launch of the platform in early May, about 600 requests have been recorded, Finance Minister Mohamed Nizar Yaiche said in a statement to the state-run TAP news agency. He confirmed that  an ad hoc committee has already started studying the requests. The digital platform is aimed at helping companies affected by the crisis secure bank loans to stay afloat. The loan applications will be accompanied by a government guarantee provided that the national interest rate does not exceed the average rate of  1.75%. The credit is to be repaid over a period of two to seven years.

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