Tunisia bans internal travel to contain pandemic

People wait to get tested for COVID-19 outside a mobile testing lab in Tunis

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia on Thursday banned travel between the country's regions, suspended schools and public gatherings and extended a curfew, as it tried to contain a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases with hospitals nearly full.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has said Tunisia cannot afford a second lockdown with the government already fighting the central bank over a projected deficit double what it had originally foreseen.

However, after successfully containing the coronavirus in the spring and summer, Tunisia is now experiencing a very rapid spread of the disease with more than 55,000 cases and intensive care units full in some regions.

As well as banning internal travel in most cases, the new rules include a suspension of schools until Nov. 8, a two-week suspension of universities and a ban on protests and public gatherings of more than four people.

A night curfew already in place in several regions has been extended across the country and brought forward to start at 8pm instead of 9pm on weekdays, while remaining at 7pm on weekends.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Jon Boyle)