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Morocco and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Corona Virus Situation in Morocco

Written by Burcin Yetim & Linda Brumfitt / July 24th 2020

It seems like yesterday, however, it’s been now 4 months as I am writing this during the last week of July. Rewinding the tape of memory to put together the words, the feelings, the facts about Morocco and the Covid-19 Pandemic.

I was one of the lucky people that managed to do a fair amount of travelling before the global lock down took place.  I replenished  my mind and energies. Especially after my SO Morocco week-long tour that included 2 days of desert trekking, which I am very grateful for.

Aware of what was going on in Italy, I was already taking some precautions before the official Covid-19 lockdown started on March 20th. This was after the first case was declared as being a Moroccan citizen coming from Italy. I had recently travelled to Rome which fortunately wasn’t in such an alarming state as much as the northern part of the country. I felt it as a responsibility to monitor myself and my movements!

Impact on Genders

Life in Morocco is very different than where I used to live in Europe. Since I relearned to live differently here, my routine was mostly taking place in between the 4 walls of my house, where I stopped receiving guests before the official lock down.

Many women, in Morocco particularly, live this reality and this kind of isolation, unless they’re working, or childless. In many cases, these are not undesirable circumstances. There are as many women that see that as a life goal as there are women who long for emancipation and do not enjoy living life that way.

This is a country where men will always be the majority living life and working out of the house, and the dynamic of these interactions is solely designed to function between men.

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Artwork by young Moroccan feminist artist Zineb Fasiki

Obviously, this situation is changing and unfolding in an inspiring, interesting way with the rising of more women (Zainab Fasiki to name one) who are not afraid to speak their mind. These women take the space to scrub off some really old labels, to keep it simple, to lead other women through a supportive and informative community.

But this takes us to the fact that as many women rarely lived life outside their homes. The isolation during lock down had a lighter impact on them then it did on the men, who started showing signs of stress much quicker, after an initial irony and an endless array of “fun” videos making fun of the Coronavirus. Songs about Corona and memes, videos and jokes were all over the main communication platforms such as Whatsapp, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook.

The King’s Vision

The vision of the King of Morocco was in stark contrast to that of the Government. He announced the pretty sudden declaration of a state of emergency and mandatory lock down with curfews, check points and intercity permit systems. Military forces were walking all around the country’s cities and towns to tell people to stay home on speakers, reiterating the state of emergency due to the Covid-19.

In addition, he also introduced a billion dollar special fund which has since been quadrupled.

GAD

Having a savings account here is not as common as we may be thinking, and the majority of people live on a day to day basis anyway. So this kind of struggle wasn’t good, but it wasn’t new either.

However as almost 20% of the economy is derived from tourism which was stopped in its tracks due to border closures, many, many of the 37m population have been severely impacted as the situation has gone on and on.

Has Morocco Effectively Managed Corona Virus?

The International media are continuing praising the unparalleled measures taken by Morocco to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, with some describing the kingdom’s strategy as one of the best in the world.

Italian news agency NOVA commented that the plan adopted by Morocco to fight the coronavirus epidemic is “unprecedented and the first of its kind in Africa”.

In fact many of the huge expat community living here declared that they felt safer here than they would in their respective home countries.

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The State of Emergency

The response of the citizens was remarkable at the beginning, even though there were many arrests for breaking the rules. But it all kind of changed when everyone started to get accustomed to the situation. In contrast to the start when everyone was happy to abide by the rules with enough discipline.

Police patrols were placed at crossroads and main junctions of the city to check that every person outside had the certification paper (1 per family allowed) and that everybody had a mask which were mandatory when out of the home. But inside the typical neighbourhoods of the Médina people relaxed much faster.
The fright at the beginning was real, especially considering the weak healthcare infrastructure and system which is highly mistrusted by the population.

But the state of emergency put the life of certain people even more at risk. Numerous families live often together and those who struggle financially on a daily basis cannot even afford basic hygiene products , masks or disinfectant for everybody, besides the full understanding of the importance of the suggested measures.
Many charities organised a daily food delivery for the poorest.

Empty Road Morocco / Noureddineph2
Avenue Mohamed V, the main road that connects the Médina of Marrakech to the new city Guéliz, photo credits to Noureddine Photographie

The Support Measures

On the other hand, the Kingdom provided to fortify the hospitals capacity and provide more beds, besides building an in site hospital with 700 additional beds in only 2 weeks.

Citizens on an unstable income, were promised financial support for the total of 3 months of lock down, starting from 800 MAD (approximately 80€) for households from 1 to 2 people, 1000 MAD for 4 people, and 1200 MAD for families bigger than that. These families benefited from financial assistance that enabled them to survive and that has been granted from the resources of the Corona pandemic fighting fund which was established according to the instructions of His Majesty King Mohammed VI.

The government established a free website through Maroc Telecom to grant public school students the access to the classes, materials and assignments – as many people also do not have a wi-fi connection at home.  Sadly, many people didn’t even have a tablet or laptop or PC to keep up and they had to adapt with their smartphones.

Even though the financial support net proved to be a great help, it only existed for the first three months of lock-down. When the state of emergency was continued and when tourism was unable to return due to continued border closures, no further support was provided.  The Minister of Labour and Professional Integration, Muhammad Amkraz, reported that a total of 113,000 companies have suspended their activities since 15 March. The minister also said that more than 700,000 employees were unable to work or were dismissed as a result.

Ramadan 2020

Right, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, better known as the holy month of Ramadan, took place from the 23rd of April to the 23rd of May 2020, during the lockdown due to Covid-19.

Ramadan it is not just one of the sacred pillars of Islam, but an occasion for many people to reunite with the family members from other cities or countries. To bond, learn, practice patience, charity and sacrifice.

But the fact that Moroccan citizens that are resident abroad couldn’t come, determined a huge financial loss for many households and for the country itself.
Even though it should be an after all positive experience, the lack of funds to create the joyful atmosphere families want to cherish during this time of the year, brought people to slowly start breaking the rules.

Children went back to play in the street. People that lived in small neighbourhoods started to roam around. Little events (engagements, funerals) created some gatherings that were hard to keep track of, as they simply started to happen anywhere out of sight, “activating” new clusters.

Ramadan Moon by Jay Tornaquia
Photo Credits to Jay Tornaquia

Covid-19 Perception

By that time we were already at the second extension of lockdown, the heat started to be fierce and the energies low. Since the 23rd of May, the Moroccan lock down was extended until the 10th of June. It was then renovated another 2 times as a state of emergency only (no lockdown, no curfew except a few areas) – the first time to the 10th of July and the last one to the 10th of August.

Empty Shops Marrakech MarketYoussef
Empty markets as you never really see them in Marrakech except at night, photo by Youssef Kamal

The Covid-19 threat seems under control, even though the situation in the streets in every city is definitely one of confusion. But that looks actually as something in common with even more developed countries around Europe.

The immense amount of information, the inflated or misleading meaning given to every new word appearing on news we received was genuinely overwhelming: Morocco has a very high number of expats and certain communities are quite tight, so we have been flooded by information regarding Italy, Spain, France, UK, Germany, as much as we did with news about Morocco.

Can Foreigners leave Morocco?

Moroccan citizens stuck abroad are now allowed to come back, and foreigners that are resident in Morocco are allowed to come back or go to their countries of origin. This category will have to be in quarantine once at destination. Some airlines declared that this group will only be able to come back to Morocco if a Covid-19 test has been done in the 2 days prior to the departure and the tourists that got stuck are slowly going back to their homes.

However, despite mask wearing and social distancing still being mandatory, masks are often worn around chins and social distancing is counterculture to Moroccans. Although shops etc are marked out with distancing spots, the hustle and bustle and close proximity to each other that Moroccans are known for is evident once more. But of course, this situation is visible in almost any other country in the world right now

Can we start travelling again?

Who can answer this question? What we know is that in the big scene of Tourism Professionals, there isn’t really any concrete news. Everybody wants to know “when can I come to Morocco?” but we are not going to speculate. It is clear that they are not rushing to re-open in order to save the economy, as some countries are.

In summary, Morocco’s death rate has been remarkably low, according to this World Bank Report,  Morocco has one of the lowest fatality rates in the world but the situation is still unfolding.

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The energy of Marrakech and its unique Jemaa le Fna square

We would love to start receiving back visitors, slowly, to enjoy the diversity, the colour and the fresh energy of summer.

At the moment, there are some cities under a localised lock down (Tangier-Asilah, Marrakech, Larache, Safi and Kenitra). Domestic tourism has started to appear, except for these cities obviously.

The atmosphere in Marrakech is a little surreal, everybody is trying to adapt to a new reality we know is not going to last as the circumstances keep changing world wide.

The Corona Effect on Moroccan Tourism

The tourism industry is expected to be the hardest hit sector in the economy, and the National Tourism Confederation estimates that the expected losses for 2020 are approximately 34.1 billion dirhams in total tourism revenue and 14 billion dirhams from the hotel sector alone.

The Confederation expects a 98% decline in the number of tourists visiting the country, which would put 500,000 jobs and 8,500 companies at risk.

This harsh reality places Morocco in a similar position to many countries in the region. The effects of this epidemic on both public health and the economy seem to be wide-ranging and the recovery will likely not be quick.

The pandemic has given us many lessons, besides awareness. It is sure that the Moroccan health system will emerge victorious, because at least we have moved from about 500 intensive care beds for recovery before the pandemic, to about 3 thousand beds currently targeted.

What Have I Learned

Observing the world during these months taught me a lot about patience, more about the impact of the unsustainable lives we have and how to make that more of a goal. What? Choosing always more consciously and with intent where to address my support, mental, financial, moral and energetic!

Empty Jma el fna Noureddineph
An empty Jemaa le Fna Square, photo credits to Noureddine Photographie

In fact, in these uncertain times, I saw once more how flexible we can be as human beings. Still, we don’t apply that flexibility in our everyday life, we try to have always too much control on trivial things.

We all have loads to learn from this, we already learned a lot, but we shouldn’t just forget about it as things get a new shape of “normal”. We are supposed to carry out a respectful behaviour towards our planet and fellow humans, travel responsibly worrying about not only what we want from the country we visit, but what we bring into it too.

How much more wonderful travelling would be in a much more respectful and well balanced reality where we all care about the well being of each other and the impact we have all around us with such little gestures and attentions?

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R’Mila, one of the most trafficked ways in the Médina of Marrakech, photo credits to Noureddine Photographie

Often times I described this moment as reflective, but it actually wasn’t, it was inquisitive within and without, as a famous quote says “ the best listener is the one that asks questions”.

Have you been asking yourselves questions? Do you work in a client/guest focused industry and asked your own questions?

 

 

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Written by Linda

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One thought on “Morocco and the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. This is a fascinating and sensitive description of life in Morocco- I read every word and will re read it.

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