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Controversy in Tunisia over 'dangerous' Ministry of Health coronavirus quarantine plans

There have not been any cases of coronavirus in Tunisia [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 January, 2020

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The mayor of Hammam Chott is strongly opposed to the health ministry's choice of his seaside town as a potential quarantine location for a coronavirus outbreak.
Measures taken by the Tunisian Ministry of Health to ensure the country is prepared should there be cases of the new coronavirus have sparked widespread controversy.

The ministry, in coordination with Tunisia's Ministry for Tourism, designated a hostel in a southern suburb of Tunisia as a potential quarantine spot.

But the plan has faced a serious backlash, with members of the municipal council threatening collective resignation over the move. The area's local population has also said they will protest if the plan is implemented.

The Hammam Chott municipality rejected the Tunisian Ministry of Health proposal and has said they intend to oppose it through all available means. 

The mayor of Hammam Chott, Fathi Zaqrouba, told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that the municipality sympathises with those affected by coronavirus, but that it is also required to protect its residents.

Zaqrouba stressed the municipality's surprise at the Ministry of Health's choice of Hammam Chott, A popular seaside resort town, as a potential quarantine location.

The ministry's choice of Hammam Chott poses a danger to local residents and visitors, and will have economic and social repercussions, the mayor added.

The ministry's chosen area includes a university complex resident to thousands of students, an international centre for scouts, a sports complex, resorts and approximately forty thousand residents, according to Zaqrouba.

The director of Basic Health at the Ministry of Health, Shukri Hammouda, told The New Arab that the ministry has put in place several possible scenarios within the framework of a prevention plan.

The director said that a location for quarantine is necessary for those who contract the virus and are not normally resident in Tunisia, whereas Tunisian residents can be isolated in family homes.

The ministry is not considering hospitals, Hammouda said, and therefore has asked for a list of vacant hostels for use as possible quarantine locations.

Hammouda confirmed that until now no cases of Corona virus have been recorded in Tunisia but that necessary precautions have been taken.

Meanwhile, the Tunisian embassy in the Chinese capital, Beijing, is communicating with the 14 Tunisians stuck in the Wuhan, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.

The World Health Organization, which initially downplayed a disease that has now killed 170 in China, was preparing to meet Thursday to decide whether to declare it a global emergency.

Read more: Israel's El Al suspends Beijing flights over coronavirus fears

The United Arab Emirates confirmed the first case of the deadly coronavirus in the Middle East Wednesday , saying that doctors were treating a family-of-four that had come from a Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.

Beijing has taken extraordinary steps to halt the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread by a Lunar New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically or abroad.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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