Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi sacked Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi on Tuesday, Mechichi’s office said, amid spiralling coronavirus cases in the North African country.
The ministry said earlier this month that Tunisia’s health system had “collapsed” under the weight of the pandemic, which has caused more than 17,000 deaths in a population of around 12 million.
Mechichi’s office announced Mehdi’s sacking in a brief statement, without giving a reason for the move.
It said Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi would head the ministry in a caretaker capacity.
Mehdi had initiated a temporary opening of vaccination stations to all Tunisians over 18 for Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to stampedes.
The ministry finally restricted access to vaccination to those aged over 40 on Wednesday to avoid a new rush.
Mehdi’s sacking is another instance of instability in a government that has seen several ministers resign over tensions with parliament and the presidency.
On Sunday, Tunisia reported 117 new coronavirus deaths and 2,520 new cases, bringing total recorded cases to more than half a million.
Health ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya said on July 8 the health situation was “catastrophic”, telling a local radio station that “unfortunately, the health system has collapsed”.
Some bodies of Covid victims have been left lying in rooms next to other patients for up to 24 hours, because there were not enough staff to organise their transfer to overstretched mortuaries.
The health ministry’s Facebook page said special field hospitals set up in recent months are no longer enough.
Following Ben Alya’s announcement, the government of war-torn neighbouring Libya said it had decided to close their shared border and suspend air links with Tunisia for a week.
Countries from Gulf states to former colonial power France and even cash-strapped Mauritania have sent medical aid.
Since June 20, authorities have imposed a total lockdown on six regions and a partial lockdown in the capital.
Tunisians have lived through a decade of political instability and economic crisis since their 2011 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leaving vital public services crumbling.
Two athletes became the first to test positive for the coronavirus in the Tokyo Olympic Village, officials said Sunday, as new border rules in Europe caused last-minute travel frustration.
Less than a week before the Olympics is due to begin, the cases will heighten concerns over the event.
Organisers have described the Games as the world’s “most restrictive sports event”, but it faces opposition in Japan over fears it will bring new infections to a country already battling a surge.
A daily tally of new cases revealed two athletes tested positive in the Village and one elsewhere. They come a day after an unidentified person, who was not a competitor, became the first case in the village.
Britain is also facing a backlash over its decision to exclude France from its new looser entry policies — vaccinated returning UK residents will still have to quarantine for 10 days, unlike in other “amber” countries.
“I’m a doctor so I understand the health issues very well, but this doesn’t make any sense,” said Maud Lemoine, a London-based doctor who is visiting France.
And France’s government drew ire after announcing that unvaccinated visitors from Britain and several other European countries must show a negative Covid test taken within 24 hours of departure rather than 48 or 72 hours, as was the case previously.
The interior ministry said almost 114,000 demonstrators gathered across France on Saturday to protest against the government’s handling of the pandemic and continued restrictions on everyday life.
“It’s not that we think the Earth is flat, but we don’t know the long-term effects of these vaccines cobbled together in a hurry,” care assistant Rita, 39, said at a march in the city of Montpellier.
Elsewhere in Europe, Greek officials imposed curfews on the party island of Mykonos and Spanish authorities did likewise in Barcelona and other cities in the northeastern Catalonia region.
EU jabs overtake US
European governments are facing an uphill battle, with the EU’s disease prevention agency warning that infections could rise fivefold across the bloc by August 1.
But the continent also had something to celebrate, with the proportion of people vaccinated topping the US figure for the first time.
Around 55.5 percent have now had a first dose following a sluggish start, compared with 55.4 across the Atlantic.
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton said the achievement validated the EU’s strategy of “remaining open and exporting half of our production to 100+ countries”, vaunting the bloc’s “solidarity” compared with other vaccine makers.
And in Britain, where most of the adult population has now had two jabs, the government is preparing to ease most restrictions.
Quarantine for vaccinated Britons returning from “amber” list countries is due to end on Monday but at the last minute the government decided to retain the status quo for France because of the “persistent presence” of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.
While the rule applies only to England for now, devolved governments in Scotland and Wales indicated they were likely to follow suit.
The new looser regime in England, with mask requirements among the rules to be dropped, comes as the UK recorded more than 50,000 cases in a day on Friday and the government said that rate could double in the coming weeks.
However, officials said the high vaccination rate should prevent a spike in deaths and serious illness.
Among those testing positive was Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who announced on Saturday he had contracted the disease and was isolating.
“I’m grateful that I’ve had two jabs of the vaccine. And so far, my symptoms are very mild,” Javid said via Twitter.
With cases surging, critics say the reopening is a reckless gamble.
“This is a threat not just to England but to the whole world — particularly low- and middle-income countries who have very limited access to vaccines,” a group of international scientists said in a joint statement on Friday.
One poorer country experiencing an infection surge is Senegal, whose national bus operator announced Saturday it would suspend intercity transport.
The announcement comes after the country of 16 million logged a record — 1,366 — of new coronavirus cases on Saturday, almost double the daily record of 733 set on Wednesday.
A new single-day record was also set in Thailand, which had more than 11,300 new infections Sunday, bringing the kingdom’s cumulative cases to more than 400,000. Saturday also saw the single-day death toll reach 141 — a new high.
Three more provinces will be placed under severe restrictions — including a night-time curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than five — that already cover Bangkok and the southern provinces.
Saudi Arabia is allowing crowds to gather for the second downsized hajj since the start of the pandemic.
The kingdom is allowing only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents to take part — a fraction of the pre-pandemic number — as it seeks to repeat last year’s success that saw no virus outbreak during the five-day ritual.
Among the chosen ones this year was Ameen, a 58-year-old Indian oil contractor who was picked for the ritual along with his wife and three adult children.
“We are overjoyed,” said Ameen. “So many of our friends and relatives were rejected.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will undertake “only essential government business” in the week ahead after the state health service designated him a close contact of a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said Sunday.
Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were both designated but are taking part in a government pilot scheme that enables them to continue working, a spokesperson said.
The development came just as Johnson’s government prepares to ditch most pandemic restrictions in England on Monday. The pilot mandates daily testing for participants and outside of work, they must self-isolate.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now self-isolating for 10 days.
“The prime minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid,” the Downing Street spokesperson said.
“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.
“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”
Javid had a “lengthy” meeting with Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.
Javid also appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”
Javid has only been in the job since late June, when former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned following revelations he had broken coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.
Jonathan Ashworth, the main opposition Labour party’s health spokesman, accused the government of double standards after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay home under Covid tracing rules.
The pilot’s exemption amounts to “an exclusive rule for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak”, he told Sky News, and the public will see “one rule for them and something else for the rest of us”.
Javid stressed he has received both doses of a Covid vaccine and his symptoms were “very mild”. He said any member of the public feeling symptoms should get a test too.
“If everyone plays their part, you’re not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you’re also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life,” the minister said.
However, with coronavirus cases again surging, many scientists say the government is endangering the NHS with its plan on Monday to scrap most legal pandemic requirements in England.
For the first time since January, Britain’s daily Covid caseload now exceeds 50,000, and Javid has warned the figure could double from that in the coming weeks.
But the government insists that with two-thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, the risk can be managed, and Monday has been dubbed “freedom day” by many UK media.
Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Javid’s test result “shows no one is safe from this deadly virus”.
Urging the government “to rethink its reckless plans for Monday”, she said: “By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people’s lives.”
The surge in infections sweeping Britain led to more than 530,000 people being instructed to self-isolate by a government-run app in the week to July 7, according to latest data.
Some companies such as carmaker Nissan have been losing staff en masse after they were pinged by the app — in a brewing crisis described by UK newspapers as a “pingdemic”.
Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line suspended entirely.
France will impose a 10-day quarantine on arrivals from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and South Africa over concerns about variants of the coronavirus, the prime minister’s office announced Saturday.
Although flights from Argentina, Chile, and South Africa will not be suspended, all arrivals from those countries will have to submit to the quarantine or face fines.
Flights from Brazil were suspended until at least next Friday because of concern about the P1 variant of the coronavirus, which is more contagious than the original strain and can also re-infect those who have had the original virus.
Ajay Singh Yadav only managed a final video call with Raj Karan before his close friend became the latest of an alarming number of young Indians, including children, falling victim to the new coronavirus wave sweeping the country.
Some doctors say the reason that under-45s are now vulnerable is that they go to work and eat out more, but there is no definitive proof.
They could also be more prone to a new “double mutant” variant found in 60 percent of samples in Maharashtra, the hardest-hit state.
Karan, 38, was campaigning in village elections when he fell ill. Yadav rushed him to a hospital, but he too tested positive and was put into isolation.
“I am devastated… I could only see him via a video call,” Yadav, 39, told AFP in the northern city of Lucknow.
The nation of 1.3 billion people has been hit by a new wave that has caused one million positive tests in a week, and authorities are rattled.
At the start of the year, India thought it had beaten the pandemic and had kicked off a mass vaccination drive.
Face masks and social distancing were cast aside and huge crowds flocked to religious festivals and election rallies.
But in hospitals, doctors started warning of a rise in cases, including a new phenomenon — younger patients — for a disease usually viewed as riskier for older adults.
Children in hospital
In a country where around 65 percent of the population is under 35, there is growing concern about the impact on the young.
New Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has said 65 percent of new patients are below 45.
India’s medical research agency does not have a demographic breakdown of cases, but doctors in major cities confirmed that more young patients are coming to hospitals.
“We are also seeing children under the ages of 12 and 15 being admitted with symptoms in the second wave. Last year there were practically no children,” said Khusrav Bajan, a consultant at Mumbai’s P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and a member of Maharashtra’s Covid-19 taskforce.
In Gujarat state, pulmonologist Amit Dave said young people were experiencing “increased severity” from coronavirus for their lungs, hearts and kidneys.
One Gujarat hospital has set up the state’s first paediatric coronavirus ward.
States across India have reported a similar increase of young patients.
In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year, data aggregator Covid19india.org said.
Variants and vaccines
“I haven’t seen such a rise in cases in the last one year as I’ve seen in the last one week,” Delhi-based book publicist Tanu Dogra, 28, who was bedridden for a week after testing positive in March told AFP.
“Everybody on my timeline, on my WhatsApp, is frantically messaging each other because they’ve all tested positive.”
In Brazil — which like the rest of the world had more severe cases and deaths among the elderly during the first wave — doctors are also seeing a higher prevalence of younger patients.
Experts say more data is needed to back up the anecdotal evidence in India, with genome sequencing of samples playing a key role.
“Sequencing will tell you about the mutant that’s emerging,” added virologist Shahid Jameel.
“But it doesn’t take away from everything else that you should be doing — that is to wear a mask and avoid crowded places.”
Authorities have imposed weekend lockdowns and night curfews to stem the virus spread.
But medical professionals say India’s sluggish vaccination drive — currently limited to over-45s — should also opened up to everyone.
Their call was echoed by young Indians in Delhi, who told AFP they felt more exposed as they had to go to work, many as breadwinners for their families.
“Right now young people need (vaccines) more… I see every day that people in their early 30s are getting hospitalised,” 25-year-old pharmacist, Muzammil Ahmed, told AFP.
With hospitals overwhelmed, specialists like Venkat Ramesh, an infectious disease consultant at the Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, said the crisis is already “severe” with worse to come.
“When I speak to my colleagues in major metropolitan cities across India, they have numerous calls from patients trying to find a bed,” Ramesh told AFP.
“I’m quite afraid for the next one month. Given the rapidity of the rise in cases, it is certainly worrying.”
The global COVID-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as the pandemic speeds up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiralling infection numbers.
It is the latest grim milestone since the novel coronavirus first surfaced in central China in December 2019 and went on to infect more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past three million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.
For comparison, three million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia — and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war, which raged from 1980-1988.
And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP’s tally.
The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.
India’s capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.
– South Asian ‘wake-up call’ – India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world’s worst-hit nation, and families are clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
Some doctors say they are alarmed at how many young people are now getting seriously ill — like Raj Karan, who got sick while campaigning for elections in the northern city of Luckno.
The 38-year-old died soon after.
“I am devastated… I could only see him via a video call,” his friend Ajay Singh Yadav, told AFP.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
Udaya Regmi of the International Red Cross said the “truly frightening” South Asian surge was a “wake-up call to the world”.
Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet.
Britain, which has given 60 percent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day — down from 1,200 in late January.
Thailand recorded its fourth consecutive day of more than 1,000 new cases on Saturday, its spiralling infections linked to a nightlife district of the capital Bangkok earlier this month.
Alcohol sales will be banned in Bangkok restaurants from Sunday, while entertainment venues will be shuttered nationwide for two weeks.
In Japan, rising virus cases have stoked speculation that the Olympic Games — postponed last year due to the pandemic — could be cancelled.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first meeting with US President Joe Biden, said his government was listening to experts and doing its “utmost” to prepare for the Tokyo games in July.
The virus continues to hit events around the world.
On Saturday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II bid farewell to her husband, Prince Philip, coronavirus restrictions meant only 30 people could attend his funeral.
Family members — all masked — sat socially distanced in the church, with bottles of hand sanitiser placed among the floral tributes inside.
In Brazil, the country with the third-highest death toll in the world, night shifts have been added to several cemeteries as diggers work around the clock to bury the dead.
“We try not to get upset in our work, but it is sad, it is a lot of people,” said one gravedigger in Vila Formosa, the largest cemetery in Latin America.
More than 365,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Brazil.
Despite the high infection rates there however, the government of Brazil’s most populous state Sao Paulo announced it would allow businesses and places of worship to reopen from Sunday.
‘Cautious optimism’ in Europe
France, which banned flights from Brazil last week, on Saturday announced compulsory quarantine for anyone arriving from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa, because of concerns about their coronavirus variants.
Earlier Saturday, Spain extended the mandatory quarantine of passengers arriving from 12 countries in South America and Africa, including Brazil and South Africa.
A day after Italy announced a partial easing of coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26, entertainment industry workers marched in Rome Saturday calling for more state support — and a calendar for the reopening of the country’s arts venues.
In more good news for Britons after the partial reopening of society this week, Germany on Friday removed the United Kingdom from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travellers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.
Israel announced it was scrapping the obligation to wear masks outside from Sunday.
Libya launched its vaccination drive on Saturday, prioritising the elderly and health care workers.
Germany will hold a national memorial service on Sunday for its nearly 80,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic, sharing the pain of grieving families and those who died alone because of Covid curbs.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will join an ecumenical service in the morning at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a memorial against war and destruction.
They will later attend a ceremony at the capital’s Konzerthaus, where the president will make a speech.
With pandemic curbs still in force restricting the number of people who can attend, the ceremonies will be broadcast live on public television.
“As president I believe it is very important for us to stop to say goodbye in dignity to those who died during the pandemic — including those who did not fall victim to the virus but who also died in loneliness,” said Steinmeier as he announced the national service.
Besides suffering the pain of losing a loved one, restrictions in place to curb infections mean that relatives are often unable to even hold their family members’ hands as they lay dying.
Others have been left grieving on their own, as funerals or memorials are curtailed by pandemic curbs.
In a dialogue with the president earlier this year, relatives of coronavirus victims voiced their loneliness.
Michaela Mengel broke down in tears as she recalled her daughter’s last minutes as she died from the coronavirus in hospital.
“Last time I saw her alive was on Christmas Eve when I had to leave the hospital. She had oxygen piped into her nose, she looked at me with her big eyes,” Mengel told the president.
“Since she could not talk I told her, bye my dear, I love you, mama will be back.”
Steinmeier stressed that it was important to look beyond the daily victim counts.
“Behind every number, there’s a human fate,” he said.
Regional leaders urged citizens to join in the remembrance including by lighting candles by their windows from Friday to Sunday.
“We want to be aware of what we lost, but we also want to find hope and strength together,” the premiers of Germany’s 16 states said in a statement.
‘Only makes it worse’
Sunday’s ceremony comes as health authorities warn that many more will succumb to the virus, as Germany struggles to put down a vicious third wave gripping the country.
Europe’s biggest economy had come out of the first wave relatively unscathed but has struggled to take decisive action to end the current one fuelled mainly by the more contagious British variant.
Another 19,185 new infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the disease control agency RKI, with the numbers of deaths also rising by 67 to 79,914.
Merkel’s government is seeking greater powers to impose tougher measures such as night-time curfews, in a bid to circumvent Germany’s powerful regional authorities, some of whom have resisted implementing tough restrictions.
But the amendment which would impose so-called “emergency brakes” still has to be approved by parliament, where opposition parties like the pro-business FDP have vowed to vote against it.
Even junior coalition partner SPD is still seeking modifications, including for people to be allowed to go on walks during curfew hours.
Merkel urged swift and decisive action.
“The virus doesn’t forgive half-hearted measures, they only make it all worse,” she told the Bundestag lower house on Friday at the start of a debate on the amended law.
“The virus doesn’t let you negotiate with it — it only understands one language, the language of resolve.”
A member of the WHO mission to China exploring the origins of the coronavirus pandemic took a swipe Wednesday at US intelligence on the issue, after the State Department cast doubt on the transparency of their probe.
President Joe Biden “has to look tough on China”, expert Peter Daszak said in a tweet as the mission ended, adding: “Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump & frankly wrong on many aspects.”
Nigeria has tested 1.3 million persons for COVID-19 so far since the virus hit the country in February 2020.
The Governor of Ekiti State and the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi disclosed this on Tuesday while delivering an address at the Chatham House Event, London, titled: “The role of Nigeria’s State Governments in recovery: responses to COVID-19 linked challenges”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the health and economy of nations, including Nigeria.
“As of today, Nigeria has tested 1.3 million persons for COVID-19, with 10% (131,242) of these confirmed positive,” the governor said.
Lagos, Plateau, Kaduna, Oyo, Rivers and the FCT have contributed 70% of the cases, with Lagos State still the epicentre of the virus in the country.
According to the governor, data indicate that men appear to be disproportionately affected, accounting for 69% of the confirmed cases.
He also noted that Nigeria is expected to procure a total of 140 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine within the next two years.
“We are working with the Federal Government to ensure we have vaccines available in the country. Just last week, the NGF invited experts to brief governors on vaccine procurement and administration. We had a National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, where the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) shared the plans around vaccines procurement.
“We expect about 80 million doses of vaccines would be available in 2021 to cover 40% of the population, while another 60 million doses are being planned for 2022,” he added.
This comes days after the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said Nigeria had secured an additional 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
However, the date of the vaccine’s delivery into the country remains unknown as vaccine manufacturers struggle to meet global demand.
“We do not have an exact date,” Dr Ehanire said during an appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today last Thursday. “The date it comes out depends on when the manufacturers are able to deliver, and that is not something that any country can enforce at this time.”
The government had said Nigeria was expected to take delivery of approximately 100,000 doses of Pfizer/Biontech vaccines by the end of January.
Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine has an overall efficacy of 66 percent, the company announced Friday, following results from a phase 3 trial of almost 44,000 people across many countries.
The figure however was as high as 72 percent in the United States but went down to 57 percent in South Africa, where a more transmissible variant is dominant.
The company added that the vaccine was 85 percent effective in preventing severe Covid-19 across all geographical regions.
“We’re proud to have reached this critical milestone and our commitment to address this global health crisis continues with urgency for everyone, everywhere,” the company’s CEO Alex Gorsky said.
The company is quickly expected to apply for a US emergency authorization, and could therefore soon be the third vaccine available in the world’s hardest-hit country.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were the first to be authorized in the US, and both have efficacies of around 95 percent.
But the comparisons are not considered like-for-like, because those trials reported results before newer, more transmissible mutations of the virus became dominant in some parts of the world.
These variants, such as B.1.135 in South Africa and P.1 in Brazil, elude some of the blocking action of antibodies triggered from vaccines made against the common strain of the coronavirus.
The fact that the J&J vaccine requires only one shot, and can be stored for up to three months at 2-8 degrees Celsius, give it major logistical advantages over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. These two are based on mRNA technology and require deep freezing.
More than 200 people were hurt in the Lebanese city of Tripoli during a third night of clashes Wednesday between security forces and demonstrators angered by a coronavirus lockdown and severe economic crisis.
Protesters threw petrol bombs and stones towards security forces, who responded with tear gas, an AFP correspondent said.
The National News Agency said 226 people had been injured in the evening — 102 of them treated by the Lebanese Red Cross and another 124 by the Islamic Medical Association.
At least 66 people had been hospitalised.
On Twitter, the security forces reported nine injured among their ranks.
“We are here to demand food. People are hungry,” said 20-year-old protester Mohammed Ezzedine. “It’s time for people to take to the streets.”
Tripoli was already one of Lebanon’s poorest areas before the coronavirus pandemic piled new misery onto a chronic economic crisis.
Many of its residents have been left without an income since Lebanon imposed a full lockdown earlier this month in a bid to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases and prevent its hospitals from being overwhelmed.
A round-the-clock curfew is in force nationwide and grocery shopping is restricted to home deliveries, which are often unavailable in poorer areas.
Authorities have extended the lockdown by two weeks to February 8.
Protesters tried to enter a government building, while others gathered in the city’s central Al-Nour Square, the scene of mass demonstrations against the political class that began in late 2019.
Gunfire was heard near the protest site, the AFP correspondent said, while demonstrators set fire to the entrance of a police building.
“We have made the decision to continue our action, whatever the cost… because we have nothing left to lose,” said a 25-year-old protester wearing a balaclava.
“We live in wretched conditions. I’ve knocked on every door but can’t find work,” he said.
After several hours of clashes, security forces deployed reinforcements to disperse the demonstrators and prevent them from storming the governorate’s headquarters.
But protesters remained in the neighbouring alleyways, where the clashes continued late into the night.
Demonstrators in other parts of the country also blocked major roads on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
In the capital Beirut, protesters burned tyres near the parliament, while others blocked the road to the sports stadium with dumpsters and more flaming tyres, the National News Agency said.
Night-time clashes in Tripoli between security forces and demonstrators had already injured at least 45 people on Tuesday and 30 on Monday, the Lebanese Red Cross said.
The army said 31 soldiers were hurt in Tuesday night’s exchange. It was not immediately clear how many soldiers were included in the Red Cross toll.
Lebanon has recorded over 289,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 2,500 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The surge in infections comes on top of the country’s worst economic crisis since its 15-year civil war ended in 1990.
Half of Lebanon’s population is now poor, and almost a quarter live in extreme poverty, the United Nations says.
Around half of the workforce lives off daily wages, the labour ministry estimates.
Authorities say they have started disbursing monthly payments of 400,000 Lebanese pounds (around $50 at the market rate) to some 230,000 families.
But caretaker social affairs minister Ramzi Musharrafieh acknowledged Tuesday that three-quarters of the population of more than six million needs financial assistance.
Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.
The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut’s port last summer killed 200 people, injured thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.
The EU disease agency ECDC on Thursday urged countries to prepare more stringent measures and speed up vaccine campaigns in the coming weeks because of the risks of more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus.
The European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a new report that countries in the EU and European Economic Area “should expect increased numbers of COVID-19 cases due to the gradual spread and possible dominance of the variants with increased transmissibility.”
“The key message is to prepare for a rapid escalation of the stringency of response measures in the coming weeks to safeguard healthcare capacity and to accelerate vaccination campaigns,” the agency said.
According to the agency the “rate and scale” of the spread would depend on the level of prevention measures and adherence to those measures.
The ECDC said that some 16,800 cases of a new more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus had been identified in the UK, where it was first discovered and some 2,000 cases in 60 countries around the world as of Tuesday, of which 1,300 cases were in 23 countries in the EU and EEA area.
Around 570 cases of another variant, also more infectious, first discovered in South Africa have been detected in 23 countries, with 27 cases in 10 EU/EEA countries, in addition to the 349 cases confirmed in South Africa as of January 13.
The ECDC also urged members to monitor changes in transmission rates or infection severity to identify and assess the circulation and impact of variants, and also to prepare laboratories for increased testing.
It also said countries should increase the number of vaccination centres and vaccination staff to speed up the rollout of the Covid-19 jabs.
Even though many countries have already begun vaccinations and have strict measures in place the ECDC cautioned against relaxing measures, “since the population groups driving transmission will not be targeted with vaccination for some months.”
It said because of the evidence of higher transmissibility of the new variants, authorities should be ready to enforce even stricter measures, “communicating and engaging with the population to encourage compliance”.