As countries continue their respective battles against the coronavirus, it has become increasingly crucial to ensure protection for people on the front lines. The unprecedented scale of the coronavirus pandemic has threatened to overcome many health care systems, easily exhausting medical personnel, including personal protective gear necessary to safeguard doctors, nurses, and other workers attending to sick patients.
Along with thousands who have pitched in to help fight the pandemic, factory workers in Tunisia are providing an important service to make sure that essential workers stay safe and healthy.
Doctors, nurses, and various hospital staff go through a huge number of protective personal equipment, including surgical masks and suits, to protect themselves from contracting the virus. Most of these materials are in short supply due to huge domestic and global demand.
In Tunisia, which is in the middle of its own coronavirus crisis, factory workers of Consomed decided to isolate themselves to ramp up and ensure unabated production of masks and safety equipment.
The lockdown ensures that factory workers can continue to produce 50,000 masks and other protective medical gear in a day. Led mainly by women, the factory workers have isolated themselves for a month after agreeing that it was their patriotic duty to help the country fight the spread of the coronavirus.
In normal times, factory products are exported, but the current focus is to manufacture enough protective gear for the country’s health sector.
Consomed factory manager Hamza Alouni stated, “…We were working for exports and we know the situation in the international world. Even in England, we have a client in there but now we cannot sell to him because everything is for our country now and we can’t sell to export.”
He added, “We are the only ones producing (protective items) for Tunisian hospitals. I chose to isolate (the company) as a precaution because if the virus gets into the factory, it will be disastrous.”
According to employee Khawla Rebhi, most of the factory workers miss their families, but the co-workers exert extra effort to cheer each other up. Their families have also been supportive of their decision. She said, “My husband and 16-year-old daughter supported and encouraged me to do this.”
The lockdown, which began on March 20, was meticulously planned to ensure that the factory workers themselves stayed healthy as they steadily churned out critical protective gear. Cooks, a doctor, and a pharmacist joined the factory workers in isolation. Separate dormitories were created for the 110 female and 40 male factory workers.
Stocks enough for one month were also brought in. Rebhi shared, “We have a designated area for all kinds of exercise and dancing for the women – and the men have a football and basketball area. And we all have internet and video chat with our families when we are not working.”
Alouni said that the factory workers felt strongly that they would be unable to keep up with medical needs if the virus spread across the workforce. He stated, “If we don’t work our doctors will not be protected against the virus. I’m trying to do my best for all my country – for the hospitals, for the army, for the police, for everybody.”
Though the staff are worried, the sense of patriotism remains strong and is giving everyone a sense of hope and optimism. Rebhi added, “I am looking at how other governments are struggling with it in Europe and elsewhere and I can’t help but wonder how a country like Tunisia will handle it.”
Despite the confinement, Alouini noted the “positive vibes” of the factory workers, and are happy for the opportunity to support a worthwhile national effort.