Tunisia’s president, UGTT union speak out against Ramadan curfew to curb coronavirus

Tunisia’s president and a powerful labor union on Friday urged the government to review the 7pm curfew it has brought in to slow COVID-19 infections, which they say will hit shops, cafes and restaurants in the month of Ramadan that starts next week.

The intervention of President Kais Saied and the UGTT union followed a gathering of hundreds of workers in the city of Sousse who said they would keep shops and cafes open, and after protests in el-Kef, Monastir and Mahdia.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government announced the tougher health restrictions on Wednesday to combat a surge in new cases, bringing the nightly curfew forward to 7pm from 10pm and barring public gatherings and markets.

Hospital intensive care units are nearly full, and Tunisia has only slowly rolled out a national vaccination campaign.

During Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast by day and traditionally gather with friends or family in the evenings, frequenting street markets and eating out.

A cafe owners’ syndicate linked to another union, UTICA, said the curfew would leave 400,000 workers without jobs during Ramadan.

The government has said it will give $70 each to thousands of workers in a bid to avoid social unrest of the kind that broke out across the country in January.

Tunisia faces an unprecedented financial crisis, with a budgeted fiscal deficit of 11 percent this year adding to its already large public debt as political infighting complicates work on a reform program aimed at reassuring foreign lenders.

“There is a scientific side. But there is also a social and economic side… the night-time curfew should be reviewed,” President Saied told Mechichi.

Noureddine Taboubi, head of the UGTT union which has a million members, said the decision would hit the vulnerable and should be reviewed.

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