Critics abound as Tunisia demands mandatory vaccination pass

Health

A man displays his vaccine passport before being allowed into a government office, in Tunis, Tunisia, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. COVID-19 vaccination passes became obligatory for Tunisians on Wednesday. They will now be asked for proof they have received both vaccine doses to enter public spaces and to continue working at state institutions, universities and certain private businesses. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — COVID-19 vaccination passes became obligatory for Tunisians on Wednesday, who now must have proof of two vaccine doses to enter public spaces and to keep working at state institutions, universities and some private businesses.

But human rights groups called for a delay to the process, pointing out that people were struggling to get vaccinations and obtain passes, and labeling the move “unnecessarily severe.” To date, around 47% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The measure was passed by decree by President Kais Saied in October to drive the nation’s vaccination campaign, one of his first decrees since suspending parliament and giving himself sweeping executive and legislative powers.

The pass will be required for six months for all Tunisians 18 and above, as well as foreign residents in the North African country. The pass will be required to enter certain businesses, public transport, cafes and restaurants, as well as areas for leisure, culture, sports and worship. People without a pass could also be turned away from banks, stores and supermarkets.

The decree says that state officials who do not present their pass will be suspended from working until they can provide a vaccination certificate. This also extends to employees in the private sector. Such employees will not be paid during the suspension.

Tunis Governor Chedly Bouallègue said local commissions would be formed to monitor compliance with health measures and business owners could face temporary closures or fines.

Amnesty International called on Tunisian authorities to suspend the application of the obligatory vaccine pass, which it said “violates workers’ rights and the freedom of movement.”

Amnesty says the measures “unnecessarily threaten the means of subsistence of Tunisians” and comes as Tunisia is facing a dire economic crisis.

Prior to Wednesday, long queues could be seen outside vaccination centers. The Health Ministry’s digital platform also experienced technical failures, meaning many people were unable to download and print their pass.

I Watch, the Tunisian branch of the Transparency International watchdog, reported cases of fraud and a hacking of the electronic platform, which resulted in the allocation of passes to those who were not eligible. The association called for a delay to the decree and an investigation.

Tunisia has lost more than 25,000 people to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and with a surge in cases in Europe driven by the omicron variant, authorities are anxious to increase vaccination rates. Tunisia’s first case of omicron was detected at the beginning of December.

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Francesca Ebel in Tunis contributed.

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