How Morocco Has Dealt With the Novel Coronavirus
By Noah Robertson/Arab America Contributing Author
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world with death and crippled economies in its wake, governments have struggled to control the virus’s spread and maintain their economies. Many countries have been hit hard and while Morocco has a lower infection and death rate than many others, it is one of the hardest hit in Africa and the Arab World. The government has aggressively cracked down with jail sentences and harsh fines for those who do not obey the Health State of Emergency in place since March 20th. While this aggressive strategy seems to have slowed the spread of COVID-19, it has also resulted in many economic and human rights concerns.
Morocco’s Health State of Emergency
While all economies are hurting and many accuse governments of overstepping their reach, it is important to first understand specific State of Emergency rules to determine their impact. Like many other countries, Morocco’s response to the coronavirus escalated quickly as cases and fears rapidly grew over the span of hours.
The following timeline will detail Morocco’s rapid response and continued efforts to combat COVID-19 and its impacts (most data sourced from the U.S. State Department and a comprehensive Aljazeera report):
03/14: Ceuta and Melilla land borders closed and most EU flights and passenger ferries canceled
03/15: All international travel besides a few departing emergency commercial flights suspended
03/20: At 6 pm the Health State of Emergency goes into effect (after the 63rd confirmed case)
Details of the State of Emergency: “movement during the day should be limited to work, shopping, medical care, purchasing medicine/medical supplies, and emergency situations only,” with a 6 am to 6 pm curfew in place enforced by the police and military.
03/22: Protests break out in Tangier, Sale, and Fez resulting in a new bill to harshly discipline those considered to be putting the population at risk
03/23: At 23:59 (11:59 pm) all train and intra-city bus service is suspended
03/24: The State of Emergency officially extended until April 20th
04/30: Government “confident” state of emergency to end 05/20
05/18: State of Emergency extended until 06/10 (curfew now 7 pm – 5 am)
05/27: Peak of daily deaths at 13
Updated 06/10: Morocco has extended its “Health State of Emergency” to 07/10 and has split the country into two zones. Zone 1 has less restrictive measures and travel is not restricted within the province or city. Zone 2 includes most major cities and still has travel restrictions within the areas and businesses must close by 8:00 pm. Regional committees will reassess zone classification on a weekly basis, but travel in and out of the country is still closed.
Other important parts of the government responded with no exact date:
- Morocco’s actions were praised by countries such as Italy, Spain, and France as well as the European Union
- The textile industry was commandeered to produce face masks
- A special $1 billion coronavirus fund was created by King Mohammed VI with support from corporations, banks, and individuals
- Free tests were provided for all citizens
- Parliament, the government, and the judiciary donated their salaries
What Is the Impact?
In reviewing this timeline of events, it is clear the Moroccan government acted swiftly to curb the spread of COVID-19, but many have worried about the heavy-handedness of their actions. The government has said their current measures are necessary to prevent coronavirus from spreading, but the United Nations Human Rights Office has listed them among 15 other countries as a violator of human rights during the pandemic time. The UNHR determined the Moroccan authorities met the category of, “using excessive and sometimes deadly force to enforce lockdowns and curfews,” which is troublesome to hear.
Since the Rif Hirak protest movement in 2016, the Moroccan Association for the Protection of Human Rights has documented more than 1,000 cases of political detention. Islamist Minister for Human Rights Mustafa Ramid also has accused the government of corruption. At a time when the people need to rely on their governments and trust the steps, they are taking to work through this pandemic these past incidents bring up current fears as police and military roam the streets.
Despite these seemingly extreme measures, Morocco has produced results with a death rate of 5:1,000,000 people compared to countries like Spain with 525:1,000,000. The current restrictions are harsh and many worry an open-ended lockdown, while smart medically, could allow the government to keep too much power post-lockdown.
The Economy in Morocco
Like many countries around the world, the Moroccan people are feeling the economic impacts of the pandemic on their economy and their livelihoods. There are currently ~6.66% of Moroccans working permanently in the informal sector, plus many more seasonal agricultural workers, and large tourism industry. Given this, the economy is struggling with the shutdown within the country, while the loss of EU exports and tourists only worsens the problem. According to an Aljazeera report, “the National Tourism Confederation (CNT) estimates the projected losses for 2020 to be approximately $34.1 billion in overall tourism revenue.” While these numbers are only for the tourism sector they demonstrate the substantial blow COVID-19 has dealt with the Moroccan economy and its people.
There have been positive steps by the government to support its citizens during the economic shutdown. Morocco’s Economic Monitoring Committee pledging money to support those who lost work in the informal sector and the King raised $1 billion as mentioned in the timeline. Along with these measures social security stipends are in place, banks are offering 3-month loan extensions, and the key interest rate was lowered to 2%.
For many workers the State of Emergency restrictions are devastating, the socio-economic divides are only worsening, and despite government support, many will struggle to recover. Morocco’s economy like so many others has been badly hurt by COVID-19, but the government is doing what it can to support its citizens and will hopefully rebuild the economy in a more reform-minded manner.
What’s Next for Morocco?
While the death toll was not horrific in Morocco the effects of this pandemic have still been devastating. The country will eventually lift its lockdown, but the aftermath is still unknown. There is hope that as the government looks to maintain nationalistic spirit post-COVID, it will release political prisoners and move further toward transparency and democratization. There is also hope that the government will help rebuild the economy in a more sustainable, equal, and forward-thinking manner. Many Moroccans are rightfully worried about the future, but there is a light of hope inside the current darkness.
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