Health crisis looms as COVID-19 cases spike in Libya and Tunisia
On 8 July, the GNU announced the closure of the Libyan-Tunisian border for one week following a rise in Covid-19 cases in Tunisia. The GNU Spokesperson Mohammed Hammouda stated that the government would take care of its nationals currently inside Tunisia, ‘until return to their country is facilitated.’ On 9 July, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported that 1,710 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in Libya in fewer than 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to more than 200,000. On 11 July, the GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hameed Dabaiba issued a decree imposing restrictions to curb the spread of the ‘Delta’ variant of the virus, including the closure for two weeks of cafes and restaurants and a ban on public transport as well as weddings and funerals.
The Tunisian government has reacted to its record number of cases by imposing a lockdown in some cities and submitting a ‘health emergency’ bill to parliament allowing for more stringent prevention. The GNU Health Minister Ali al-Zanati reportedly met his Tunisian counterpart, Fawzi Mehdi, to discuss cooperation on preventing the spread of the virus. On 9 July, the Prime Ministers of the two countries held a phone call during which they insisted that the closure of the border was temporary. Dabaiba stated that Libya would ‘spare no effort’ in assisting Tunisia during its time of need.
The sudden border closure is likely to have a negative impact on trade between Libya and Tunisia, making their post-pandemic economic recovery more difficult. If the border remains closed for an extended period, this could worsen Libya’s economic woes while encouraging the growth of cross-border smuggling.