Tunisia's government will review the 7pm curfew it has brought in to slow COVID-19 infections, after the president and a powerful labour union said on Friday it would hit shops, cafes and restaurants in the month of Ramadan that starts next week.
"The measures will be subject to study after the request of the president, who called for a review of the nightly curfew," Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said.
The intervention of President Kais Saied and the UGTT union followed a gathering of hundreds of workers in the city of Sousse who said they would keep shops and cafes open, and after protests in el-Kef, Monastir and Mahdia.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government announced the tougher health restrictions on Wednesday to combat a surge in new cases, bringing the nightly curfew forward to 7pm from 10pm and barring public gatherings and markets.
Mechichi is expected to hold a meeting on Saturday with governors representing all parts of the country to review the nightly curfew.
So far in Tunisia, 9,136 people have died from COVID-19. The country's intensive care units are nearly full, while it has only slowly been rolling out a national vaccination campaign.
During Islam's holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast by day and traditionally gather with friends or family in the evenings, frequenting street markets and eating out.
A cafe owners' syndicate linked to another union, UTICA, said the curfew would leave 400,000 workers without jobs during Ramadan.
The government has said it will give $70 each to thousands of workers in a bid to avoid social unrest of the kind that broke out across the country in January.
Tunisia faces an unprecedented financial crisis, with a budgeted fiscal deficit of 11% this year adding to its already large public debt as political infighting complicates work on a reform programme aimed at reassuring foreign lenders.
"There is a scientific side. But there is also a social and economic side... the night time curfew should be reviewed," President Saied told Mechichi.
Noureddine Taboubi, head of the UGTT union which has a million members, said the decision would hit the vulnerable and should be reviewed.