Algeria is still in stage 2 of the coronavirus epidemic, a month after the discovery of the first case, an Italian national working in an oil base in the south of the country. But the death rate is very high, with nine deaths out of the 90 cases reported by the Ministry of Health.
Epidemiology experts, like Abdelkrim Soukhal, from the Beni Messous hospital in Algiers, fear the catastrophe. “The number of cases will increase at a dizzying pace,” he warns. The Pasteur Institute of Algiers performs 130 screening tests per day and hastily trains technicians so that the tests are also carried out in the regions (Constantine and Oran).
The eight virologists of the Institute are overwhelmed. Blida, 48 km south of Algiers, is the main focus of the epidemic with more than 50% of the confirmed cases. Cases have been reported elsewhere in the country such as Skikda, Souk-Ahras, in the East, El-Oued, in the South, Béjaia, in the center, and Mascara, in the West. The origin of the contamination is external, via Algerians from Spain, France and Saudi Arabia.
The president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who gathered the government, this Thursday, in Algiers, did not rule out the possibility of passing to stage 3, therefore to the confinement of the population, in case the situation worsens in the next days. Already, all schools, universities, supermarkets and public gardens are closed. Sports and cultural events are suspended. Ditto for the great Friday prayer in the mosques. Demonstrations which have defied power every Friday for almost a year are prohibited.
Pharmacies are stormed
All flights and maritime connections are stopped, except for the repatriation of Algerians from abroad, obliged, upon arrival, to submit to 15 days medical isolation. Coming from Marseille, passengers of a ship, docked at the port of Oran on Wednesday evening, resisted by refusing quarantine. It took hours of talks to convince them to leave the boat.
In Algiers, the shops, restaurants and cafes, usually crowded during this school holiday period, have closed their doors while pharmacies are stormed for the purchase of masks and hydroalcoholic gel. The Pharmacists’ Union denounced “the intermediaries” who already speculate on these products by tripling the prices. Speculation also affects fruits and vegetables in the markets of large cities.
“The authorities seem to be hesitant to take decisions to fight against speculators, but also to impose general confinement. Algeria does not have the medical means of Europe. And then, the fall in the price of oil is another disaster for the country, “said Farid, a retired commercial executive. The epidemic has made us forget the collapse of oil prices. The price of a barrel is at its lowest level in 18 years, at less than 30 dollars. A blow to the Algerian economy which depends 97% on the export of hydrocarbons.
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