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Tunisian President Kais Saied on Friday ordered a general lockdown, restricting public movement to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking in a televised broadcast, Saied said, he was asking the majority of people to stay at home and stop movement between Tunisian cities.

The government later said in a statement the lockdown would come into force on Sunday and last until April 4.

The announcement came a day after the tiny North African country registered its first coronavirus death. The southern Mediterranean country has reported 54 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death.

Mosques, caf├ęs and markets have been closed, and the country's land and maritime borders have also been shut with international flights suspended to try to contain the pandemic.

Loan repayments for poor postponed

Tunisian banks will postpone the repayment of loans by poorer citizens by six months to help alleviate the social and economic impact of the crisis, banking sources said.

"There is no need for fear or panic, the state will be with you," said Saied  in a television broadcast.

"I call on Tunisians to stay at home and to go out only to meet the most urgent needs... The state will provide food and vital services such as health and security."

Tunisia now expects an economic recession, prompting the central bank on Tuesday to cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points.

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