Weeks after a surge in coronavirus cases overwhelmed intensive care units across North Africa with severe oxygen shortages that drew public ire, the number of cases is drastically declining.
Below is the situation in the four Maghreb countries – Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya – according to official figures compiled by the AFP news agency.
Images of intensive care units overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in July sparked outrage in Tunisia, which has suffered the region’s highest per capita deaths from the virus, with around 24,500 in a population of 11.7 million. .
At its peak, the latest wave saw more than 55,000 new infections between July 7 and 13, a weekly figure seven times the current rate. In the last seven days, 342 deaths from the virus were registered, just a fifth of the number of victims in the last week of July.
Authorities responded to the increase with a strict early evening curfew and travel restrictions. Neighboring Libya closed its border with Tunisia. Now those measures have been relaxed.
“There is the effect of mass vaccination of the population,” said Hechmi Louzir, director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunisia, who is a member of the country’s scientific committee on the pandemic.
He told the AFP news agency that up to 60 percent of the population could be fully vaccinated by October, adding that a large number of infections had also increased immunity levels.
AFP figures show that over the past week, Tunisia was vaccinating its population faster than any other African country, with 0.81 percent of the population per day receiving a vaccine.
More than a quarter of Tunisians are now fully vaccinated.
Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID deaths in its population of roughly 36 million, according to AFP figures.
The kingdom is ahead of its Maghreb neighbors in vaccinations, with 46.7 percent fully vaccinated.
Morocco saw an increase in infections after easing the curfew and opening its borders to travelers in June. That allowed Moroccans from European countries heavily affected by the highly infectious Delta variant to return home for the summer holidays.
The number of cases skyrocketed, with some 70,000 new cases during a week in early August. The authorities responded by imposing a new curfew and restrictions on movement and gatherings.
Health Ministry official Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih said this week that infections had decreased for the fifth week in a row. But in comments made by the official MAP news agency, he warned that “high rates of critical cases and deaths continue to be recorded.”
The country delayed the start of the new school year until October 1 and launched a vaccination campaign among adolescents.
With an official death toll of 5,650, Algeria announced in September a target to vaccinate 70 percent of its nearly 43.9 million inhabitants by the end of the year.
But AFP figures show that this week, just 13 percent of the population had received a first injection of the vaccine, and less than 10 percent were fully vaccinated.
The country’s case burden peaked in the last week of July with more than 10,000 infections, but has since plummeted.
While the first week of August saw 268 deaths, the last seven days were 132.
Authorities maintained a curfew but reopened beaches, entertainment venues and sports fields, and spectators must present health passes. Wedding gatherings remain banned, as are political protests.
Algeria resumed international flights in June after a suspension of more than a year.
Libya, where state institutions have been degraded by a decade of conflict, has officially recorded 4,500 COVID deaths among its seven million people.
Like its neighbors, it has seen a spike in infections followed by a sharp drop in recent weeks.
In the last week of July, it registered 24,000 new cases and 204 deaths, but in the last seven days only a third of that number of infections and 83 deaths were registered.
The divided country’s vaccination campaign got off to a slow start but, on August 11, a center was opened in the capital, Tripoli, and another in the east of the country 10 days later, followed by a series of smaller ones.
An AFP count shows that just over 18 percent of Libyans have taken a first hit.
But the vaccines – China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik V – have arrived in irregular batches, and only 2 percent of Libyans have received the two full doses.
Libyan health authorities have noted a drop in infections in the west after the border with neighboring Tunisia was closed on July 8.
The border reopened on Friday with strict health measures to prevent another spike in cases.
Authorities fear eastern Libya will see a similar spike as cases rise in neighboring Egypt.