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For two weeks, the back room of Aymen Skander’s pharmacy, in Tunis, has not been empty. Employees are busy vaccinating against Covid-19 volunteers anxious to be up to date before the entry into force of the vaccination pass, Wednesday, December 22. “We really work in a continuous flow”, explains the pharmacist.
This proof of vaccination becomes compulsory to access administrations, public establishments, transport, cafes and restaurants, but also to go to work in certain private companies. The governor of Tunis has promised reinforced control measures, especially in cafes and shops. Violators of the law risk seeing their establishment temporarily closed.
Riadh Zinoubi, a 51-year-old computer engineer, has an appointment for his first dose. Looking worried, he says he is not convinced and does the vaccine out of obligation. “It was getting vaccinated or losing my job, so obviously I made the choice of vaccination”, he said bitterly. His company has sent several e-mails to warn that from Wednesday, anyone who does not present a vaccination pass would incur a suspension of their employment contract, in accordance with the decree-law which frames the device.
The text indeed stipulates that “Failure to present the vaccination pass entails the suspension of the exercise of functions for the staff of the State, local communities and public bodies, companies and establishments”. Private sector companies can also take advantage of it.
More than 25,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic
By adopting this measure, the authorities want to anticipate the risks of a new wave after a summer plagued by Covid-19, with death rates among the highest in Africa. As of December 19, 25,475 deaths had been recorded since the start of the pandemic. After failures in the vaccination campaign, due to a lack of sufficient vaccine supply, the country has however caught up. More than 10 million Tunisians have received their first dose, half have completed their vaccination schedule (ie 46% of the population). A campaign for the third booster dose has been launched and 600,000 people have already benefited from it.
If the vaccination pass creates a renewed impetus for vaccination among the most reluctant, some deplore the lack of “Pedagogy” or from ” sensitization “ on the subject, according to Aymen Skander: “The influx to centers and pharmacies is more by obligation. Many people remain resistant and we sometimes have to spend nearly twenty minutes to convince or reassure them. “ Others fear angry reactions to the severity of the sanctions. “Even among academics or health personnel, some are against compulsory vaccination”, explains Hechmi Louzir, director of the Institut Pasteur in Tunis.
In companies, the control of the pass is left to the discretion of the employers, but “There may be surprise inspections”, explains Riadh Daghfous, member of the scientific committee for the fight against the coronavirus. He believes that it would have been better to offer an alternative to the vaccine pass, rather than radical sanctions. “At the beginning, the implementation of the pass will not be easy”, he said, adding that exceptions are nevertheless provided for people with certain diseases or those recently infected with Covid-19 and who have not yet been able to be vaccinated.
Manufacture of false passes sold for 30 dinars
For Hechmi Louzir, it is especially young people and students who risk being penalized by the restrictions. Only 40% of them are able to present a complete vaccination schedule. This may pose a problem as the exams approach. “The start of the school year promises to be problematic, we do not know to what extent the students will have done the procedures to obtain their vaccination pass by then”, he declares.
Monday evening, the Evax.tn site, on which the pass can be downloaded, encountered technical difficulties due to the saturation of connections, estimated at nearly 13,000 per second. The director of the Computer Center of the Ministry of Health, Lotfi Allani, also revealed the manufacture of false passes sold for 30 dinars (approximately 9.30 euros), in order to circumvent the obligation.
With the dissemination of the Omicron variant in Europe, Tunisia has also tightened the conditions for entry into its territory. Travelers must present a negative PCR test of less than forty-eight hours (instead of seventy-two hours) when arriving on Tunisian soil. The unvaccinated must undergo a ten-day confinement in a center designated by the ministry of health, at their expense. A precaution “Necessary and prudent”, according to Hechmi Louzir, faced with the lack of data on the Omicron variant.
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“It was getting vaccinated or losing my job”: the vaccination pass comes into force in Tunisia