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'Our lives are not worth saving': Anger in Tunisia amid deadly COVID wave

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By Anelise Borges
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Graves of COVID-19 victims at El Jellaz, Tunis’ biggest cemetery.
Graves of COVID-19 victims at El Jellaz, Tunis’ biggest cemetery.   -   Copyright  Anelise Borges / Euronews
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Teams at Tunisia's largest cemetery, El Jellaz, have been working around the clock digging graves amid a deadly wave of COVID-19.

Hassen, who has worked at the cemetery for the past four years, says there are days where they go without a break.

“This cemetery has been around for 900 years, there’s never been a year like this,” Hassen told Euronews.

He helped bury 800 out of the 1,200 coronavirus victims that have been laid to rest there.

Yassine Saii lost his father to the coronavirus just a few weeks ago.

“My dad was fine in the beginning, I took him to the hospital and he got sicker and sicker,” he said, adding that medical personnel in the hospital were overwhelmed and oxygen was in short supply.

“There were four or five people, one oxygen tank, and just one cable that connected to the people. And when it’s over they have to wait for the next round, which is in 12 hours when they can get another tank.”

Several hospitals are reportedly running out of oxygen, forcing doctors to transport patients to other facilities.

In the southern city of Tataouine, at least three people died when the regional medical facility ran out of oxygen.

Families blame government inaction for their loss

“I will tell something for the whole world to know: I hate Tunisia, I hate the government. The government is not a government,” Saii said.

More than 20,000 Tunisians have died of COVID-19, but estimates suggest the number could be three times higher.

For some, the government's inability to tackle the pandemic is a last straw. Just 5% of Tunisia’s budget goes to healthcare, three times less than what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends.

“People understood that our lives were not worth saving - that’s the message we got from the government," said Tunisian doctor Zakaria Bouguira.

"I hope today authorities understand that, and that with new power, the president will change this direction and place importance in human lives. If they don’t, this administration will join other politicians (in Tunisians' minds) because Tunisians will no longer accept being sacrificed."

EU countries and China have sent Tunisia six millions doses in the past week, and President Saied has said a mass vaccination campaign will start on Sunday.

To date, just around 9% of Tunisians have been vaccinated.

Watch the full video report in the player above.