ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria started requiring a “vaccine passport” Sunday to enter a broad range of public venues, in a bid to boost the country’s low inoculation rate and overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.
The pass is now required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and some other sites. It also applies to hammams — the bath houses that are popular across the region.
Less than a quarter of Algeria’s population has had even one vaccine dose, so the rule will be difficult to enforce. It was announced in a government statement Saturday night and came into effect Sunday, leaving Algerians and businesses no time to prepare.
The government said the measure was aimed primarily at dealing with a rebound in infections from the delta variant. Only two cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Algeria but authorities are bracing for more. The government said other measures could be taken in the coming days depending on the evolution of the epidemic.
Official figures show Algeria has seen 6,230 COVID-related deaths including seven in the past week, and 217,000 cases overall. But even members of the government’s scientific committee admit the real figures are much higher. Out of fears of being blamed for getting the virus or other stigma, some Algerians keep their infections secret — which then puts others at risk.
Meanwhile vaccine hesitancy remains high, despite sufficient supply.
“More than 13 million vaccines risk being out of date if they do not quickly find takers,” Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid warned earlier this month.
According to figures released last week by a member of the government scientific committee, professor Ryadh Mahyaoui, only 10 million Algerians have had a first dose of the vaccine out of a population of 45 million.