TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — 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.
But human rights groups called for a delay to the process, pointing out that people were struggling to get vaccinations and obtain passes, and the move is “unnecessarily severe”. Less than half of Tunisians are fully vaccinated.
The measure was passed by decree by President Kais Saied in October in an effort 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 an initial period of six months, and extends to all Tunisians aged 18 and above, as well as foreign residents in the country.
To date, around 47% of the population has been fully vaccinated, suggesting that more than half of the population is not entitled to the pass.
The pass will be required at the entrance of certain private businesses, public transport, institutions and spaces such as cafes and restaurants, as well as areas reserved for leisure, culture, sports and worship.
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. The decree stipulates that such employees will not be paid during the period of suspension.
People without a pass could also be turned away from banks, stores and supermarkets.
Tunis Governor Chedly Bouallègue said that local commissions would be formed to monitor compliance with health measures and that in the event of an infringement, business owners could face temporary closures or fines.
In a statement, rights group Amnesty International called on the Tunisian authorities to suspend the application of the obligatory vaccine pass which “violates workers' rights and the freedom of movement.”
Amnesty says the measures “unnecessarily threaten the means of subsistence of Tunisians by inflicting excessively severe sanctions on them in the event of non-compliance” and that the measure comes at a time when Tunisia is facing a dire economic crisis.
In the runup to Wednesday, long queues could be seen outside vaccination centres. The Health Ministry’s digital platform also experienced technical failures, meaning many people were unable to download and print their pass. According to the the director-general of the Computer Center of the Ministry of Health, Lotfi Allani, 13,000 requests were recorded per second on Monday. Allani also said that fake passes were being sold for 30 dinar ($10.40).
I Watch, the Tunisian branch of the international organization “Transparency International” meanwhile 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 into this matter.
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 and to mitigate the impact of a new wave. Tunisia’s first case of omicron was detected at the beginning of December.
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