Tunisia to ban gatherings, cut public-sector work hours due to pandemic

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Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tunis

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian authorities will ban all gatherings and reduce working hours for employees in the public sector in order to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said on Saturday.

The decision‮ ‬was taken amid strong fears that hospitals in the North African nation will be unable to cope with a high number of patients because of the shortage of intensive-care beds.

The total number of coronavirus cases has jumped to more than 20,000 compared with roughly 1,000 cases before the country's borders were reopened on June 27.

In a speech announcing the latest measures to combat the virus, Mechichi said he gave orders to Tunisia's governors to implement a regional lockdown‮ ‬if necessary. But he added it was unthinkable to reimpose a nationwide lockdown because of the unprecedented economic collapse caused by the first lockdown in March.

Tunisia's tourism-dependent economy shrank 21.6% in the second quarter compared to the same period last year as a result of the pandemic and measures to curb it.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Paul Simao)

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