The ancient El Jem amphitheatre, which is one of Tunisia’s top attractions, projects a desolate look, being wrecked by COVID-19.
The 3rd century structure is symbolic of Tunisia, and features on the 20-dinar note. It usually witnesses about 190,000 visitors every year, but in 2020 only 45,000 visited. So far this year, it has remained deserted most of the time.
Over the past two weeks numbers have started getting better after the government relaxed quarantine rules for package tours to bring in foreign revenue from the summer high season, but they are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
In the plaza outside the amphitheatre, tourism businesses are slowly closing down, as they are across the country, putting lives on hold and driving people to find alternative occupations. Tunisia, which is dependent on foreign assistance to obtain COVID-19 vaccines, is struggling with low stocks.
Most tourists visit Tunisia for its long white beaches. Besides, it also offers ruined Roman cities, cork forests, medieval mosques, Star Wars film sets and Saharan oases. Tourism normally accounts for about a tenth of Tunisian economy.
The biggest nearby beach town is Sousse, where the Movenpick Resort & Marine Spa is employing only about half its usual 550 staff, said its sales and marketing director Zied Maghrebi.