Algeria’s cultural spaces, some universities shut doors amid climbing Omicron infections

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ALGIERS- Algeria has stepped up measures to curb the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the climbing Omicron infections with the Culture Ministry announcing that museums, cinemas, libraries and other sites would be closed to the public ‘until the health situation improves’.

In a related context, most universities have suspended in-person teaching until the beginning of February, an education ministry official told state media on Wednesday.

At an emergency meeting held, last week, in response to climbing Omicron infections, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said a decision to stop face-to-face teaching could be made by university management, taking exam timetables and other factors into account.

Following that meeting, schools across the country were shut for 10 days to curb the spread of the virus.

For its part, the wilaya of Algiers announced, in a press release, new restrictive measures.

To this end, public recreational spaces for leisure and relaxation will be shut for a period of ten days, as of Thursday, January 20.

The wilaya of Algiers also called for “strict compliance” with preventive measures in large commercial areas, urban transport and administrations while the wearing of a mask remains “compulsory”.

The wilaya also stressed that “any violation of health protection measures in stores and commercial spaces would lead the the rigorous application of the administrative sanctions in force “.

Health minister called, for his part, Algerians to get vaccinated and save hospitals from collapse as the nation faces a rebound of COVID-19 infections.

He encouraged major institutions including universities to encourage staff to get vaccinated, and organise vaccination drives for employees.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” health minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said at a press conference in the capital, Algiers.

“For now, the hospital staff are managing. The question is, for how long can they hold on?”

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant, which now accounts for 60% of COVID-19 infections.

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

The inoculation rate in Algeria remains low. Less than a quarter of the population has had even one vaccine dose despite the government’s robust vaccination campaign in state media and on social networks.

Algeria has a stock of vaccines that can largely ensure coverage of vaccination needs for two years, the minister said. Overall, only 13% of Algeria’s 45 million inhabitants, have been inoculated, the minister said. Of eligible adults, only 29% have received two vaccine doses, he said.

In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.

The pass is also required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for entering sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and other sites like hammams — bath houses that are popular across the region.

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