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Tunisia welcomes back tourists after pandemic lockdown

The novel coronavirus crisis has hit Tunisia's tourism sector hard
The novel coronavirus crisis has hit Tunisia's tourism sector hard FATHI NASRI AFP
3 min
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Djerba (Tunisia) (AFP)

Tourists are back on Tunisia's beaches after charter flights resumed to the North African country following a break of more than three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 155 mask-clad holiday makers from France, Germany and Luxembourg were greeted late last week on the resort island of Djerba with temperature checks -- but also by hostesses offering them bouquets of jasmine.

"We can't save the whole season, but we will do everything we can to save part of it," said Tourism Minister Mohamed Ali Toumi, who was at the airport to welcome the Luxair flight.

Tunisia, a country of some 11.5 million people, has officially registered 1,374 novel coronavirus infections and 50 deaths.

It reopened its borders on June 27, and travellers from countries it classifies as "green", including France, Germany and Luxembourg, are not subject to any coronavirus restrictions.

"You have managed the health crisis better than us," said Patrick, a Frenchman in his sixties who arrived with his son for 10 days in the Tunisian sun.

Tourism accounts for between eight and 14 percent of Tunisia's GDP, and employs around half a million people.

The novel coronavirus crisis has hit the sector hard.

Tourism revenues declined by around 50 percent between January 1 and July 10, compared to the same period last year, according to official figures.

Authorities are counting on health regulations to reassure tourists and the sector, and have halved hotel capacity in order to comply with anti-coronavirus measures.

"We are determined to strictly apply the health protocol," the tourism minister said.

Authorities are hoping for a revival of the sector in early 2021.

Elsewhere in North Africa, Morocco announced Sunday a further easing of its own novel coronavirus restrictions, allowing tourist establishments to operate at full capacity but keeping borders closed.

A "third phase" of easing was set to come into effect on Monday, authorities said in a statement, as part of "the continued implementation of measures necessary for a gradual return to normal life and restarting the economy".

Tourist businesses are now allowed to "use 100 percent of their capacity, without exceeding 50 percent in common areas" such as restaurants, pools and indoor sports facilities.

But the kingdom will keep its borders closed "until further notice", except for returning Moroccans and residents.

Since June, Morocco has allowed cafes, restaurants and shops to reopen and for domestic tourism to restart.

A state of health emergency remains in place in Morocco until August 10.

Cultural centres, libraries, museums and archaeological sites are also allowed to reopen "without exceeding 50 percent capacity", the statement said, and gatherings and activities with fewer than 20 people are also allowed.

But wedding parties and funeral gatherings remain prohibited, and cinemas and public pools will stay closed, the statement added.

The country of around 34 million has officially registered over 17,000 novel coronavirus cases and around 270 deaths since March.

Authorities placed parts of the northern city of Tangiers back into lockdown last week after new clusters of infection appeared, and locked down the coastal town of Safi earlier in the month after an outbreak at a fish canning factory.

burs-lg/fz

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