Tunisian premier criticises ousted health minister on coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian prime minister appears in news conference
FILE PHOTO: Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appears in a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo

July 20, 2021

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Tuesday accused the dismissed health minister of making “criminal” decisions that led to overcrowding and chaos at coronavirus vaccination centres.

The centres opened for young people on Tuesday and tens of thousands flocked to them only to find out that small quantities of vaccine were available, leading to some violence.

“The decision to summon all Tunisians for vaccination on the day of Eid is a populist decision and can be described as criminal and threatens the health of Tunisians and social peace,” Mechichi said in a statement.

Mechichi had sacked Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi earlier on Tuesday, amid an exchange of accusations over performance in the fight against an increase in COVID-19 cases and the slow pace of the vaccination campaign.

“I alerted the minister to the possibility of a lack of oxygen, but he did not take the appropriate decisions, and I made the decisions myself,” Mechichi’s statement said.

Mehdi could not immediately be reached for comment on Mechichi’s statement.

So far, only 940,000 people have been fully vaccinated out of a total of 11.6 million residents.

The government said the minister of social affairs will serve as an acting minister of health.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by Grant McCool)