Spain mask rule ends, Tunisia tasks army

·3-min read

The Spanish parliament has approved lifting a mandate on outdoor masks and the Tunisian military has been tasked with battling the coronavirus pandemic as the World Health Organisation registered more than 3.4 million new global infections in the last week.

The end of the obligation to wear face masks outdoors in Spain when distancing is practicable was approved by parliament on Wednesday.

It passed despite some members of Congress advocating for a return to the face mask rule in all circumstances as a fifth wave of coronavirus infections spreads across Europe.

Health Minister Carolina Darias defended the decree and insisted that face masks continue to be mandatory in most circumstances, with the freedom to take them off restricted to specific situations.

The measure was backed by 180 members of parliament, with 90 voting against and 78 abstaining.

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Wednesday that the military health department will take over management of the health crisis in the country amid a COVID-19 outbreak - an escalation of a battle over powers with the prime minister.

Tunisia is struggling to cope with a resurgence of the virus, with intensive care wards full and doctors overburdened by a rapid rise in cases and deaths and a lack of oxygen supplies.

Saied's comments come after Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi sacked Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi on Tuesday amid an exchange of accusations over performance in the fight against the pandemic and the slow pace of the vaccination campaign.

Mechichi accused Mehdi, who is close to Saied, of making "criminal" decisions that led to overcrowding and chaos at vaccination centres.

But Saied, who is at odds with Mechichi over their respective powers and political alliances, said that violence, chaos and overcrowding in vaccination centres on Tuesday was orchestrated by people within the political system.

"The Military Health Department will take over the management of the health crisis in the country", he said in comments to Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya during a visit to a vaccination centre in Tunis.

Tunisia received aid this month from European and Arab countries, which included about three million vaccine doses and field hospitals as it suffers its worst financial crisis ever and it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

The North African country has reported about 18,000 deaths and more than 550,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began.

The WHO said there were more than 3.4 million new global cases of the coronavirus in the past seven days, a 12 per cent increase from the previous week.

The UN health agency said the number of deaths is continuing to decline, with about 57,000 in the last week.

"At this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks," the WHO said.

It noted the highest increases in COVID-19 cases were in the western Pacific and European regions.

In the past week, the WHO said the highest coronavirus infections were in Indonesia, the UK, Brazil, India and the US.

The WHO has urged countries to commit to vaccinating at least 40 per cent of every country's population by the end of the year.

with AP, EFE

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting