Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes

FILE PHOTO: People leave a train station, as Tunisia relaxes some of its lockdown rules while keeping other restrictions in place, as preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in La Marsa near Tunis, Tunisia May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Angus McDowall/File Photo

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisians returned to mosques and cafes on Thursday as the country ended most lockdown restrictions after largely containing the spread of the novel coronavirus for now.

Sitting with friends at the Brazil coffeeshop in the Ibn Khaldoun district of Tunis, schoolteacher Nizar Jamal said he was glad to resume his daily chats with friends.

“We are again breathing the air of life. We missed the smell of coffee a lot,” he said.

Tunisia in March closed its international borders, stopped all movement between towns and cities, shuttered mosques, shops, schools, cafes and restaurants, imposed a nightly curfew and stopped people leaving homes at day for most reasons.

It has recorded 1,048 cases of the coronavirus and 48 deaths, compared with nearly 10,000 cases in neighbouring Algeria. The only recent cases came from people arriving into quarantine from abroad.

Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September and the government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks. International borders will reopen fully in late June.

In another Tunis district, Menzah 9, a cafe owner who gave only his first name, Mahmoud, said he was relieved to have reopened.

“This cafe provides work for 20 families. We have suffered a lot from stopping work for three months and we hope to make up for it soon,” he said.

Tunisia’s government has announced compensation measures to help businesses and needy families with the economic effects of the lockdown and has agreed a package of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson

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