Situation report from tunis: media star police robot

Curfew and somehow everything is different in Tunisia’s capital. Even cab drivers are saving their usually audacious conspiracy theories.

Even the nicest cafes in Tunis are closed Photo: dpa

The health minister’s voice is brittle as he steps in front of the cameras on Monday, tears are in his eyes. Everything that has been achieved so far will be lost if citizens do not finally stay at home, Abdelatif Mekki pleads. The pandemic is now out of control in Tunisia. Yet the Tunisian government, which had just been elected to office, had quickly and effectively halted public life. On the way to the supermarket, one meets only a few passers-by. The media star is a small police robot that the Ministry of the Interior drives through the streets and asks passers-by for the necessary special permit.

Birdsong characterizes the otherwise congested downtown streets. Along with the cars, even the bad manners have disappeared. In the queue in front of the supermarket, no one pushes past the others at the last moment anymore, disciplined distance everywhere. The Tunisians, who are plagued by notorious money problems, normally get along with each other by crossing small boundaries; without elbows, they don’t really think they can get their way.

Since the Corona curfew, everything has somehow changed. Even without expert talk shows on continuous loop like in Germany, Tunisians know that their world will never be the same after the crisis. Officially, fewer than 1,000 people have been infected with the corona virus. But soon the hospitals will be overwhelmed, the minister says.

The road to the coastal suburb of La Marsa leads past police checkpoints, with serious faces everywhere. Even the cab drivers save their otherwise so audacious conspiracy theories. Mohamed Kabiri just shrugs his shoulders, even though he will go home with hardly more than 20 euros after his 10-hour shift. The street markets are full, because without them the first families would already be starving; students are handing out homemade face masks. A new solidarity has taken hold of Tunisia, which is on the brink of economic collapse as the tourist season comes to an end. Many private initiatives are picking up where the state leaves a vacuum.

The speeches of the health minister and the prime minister were sober analyses of the situation. A new tone without appeasement or false promises that is somehow transmitted to the entire country. For the first time, citizens feel they are being taken seriously. Suddenly, many payments to authorities can be made online. A hotel on Djerba is now to be turned into a residential complex for pensioners, because all-inclusive vacations are probably out of the question for the time being. Tunisia has shied away from many necessary reforms. With the Corona crisis, these are becoming more urgent.

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