Morocco Steps Up Fight Against Novel Coronavirus

RABAT || The agglomerations of cars that have been seen leaving in quarantine from the Basque Country or the Valencian Community to a second residence, despite all the recommendations of scientists and authorities, would be unthinkable from this Sunday on the other side of the Strait.

While the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, declared on Saturday night that Spain has applied “the world’s toughest measures” in relation to confinement, Morocco at that time announced much more expeditious regulations.

Since Friday, March 20, it is mandatory to have a receipt stamped by the authorities to leave your home. Beginning at midnight on Saturday, public and private passenger transport were declared prohibited. This includes, in addition to buses, so-called grand taxis and private vehicles.

With this battery of regulations, Morocco was this Saturday at the head of the countries that have adopted the most confinement measures in their fight against the coronavirus. Not even China implanted something like this in all its territory. Xi Jinping’s government only completely halted transport in Hubei province of 60 million people, where Wuhan city of 11 million is located.

Outside Hubei, inter-provincial bus routes, some train lines were interrupted and many flights were cancelled, but not all, according to Macarena Vidal Liy. The metro and city buses continued to operate in large cities, but the recommendation was to avoid them as much as possible. And in the worst of the quarantine, yes, they were empty or almost empty

In Morocco, despite official figures reporting on Saturday night that there were 96 infections and only three deaths from the coronavirus (compared to 25,000 infected in Spain and 12,644 dead at the time), to the Moroccan authorities their pulse did not tremble to apply radical measures among its 34 million inhabitants.

On Friday, March 13, with 8 cases of contagion and one officially recognized dead, Morocco closed the borders with Ceuta and Melilla and only left open steps for the exit of foreign tourists blocked in the country. The routes back to Morocco have been closed for Moroccans who are outside the country.

Dozens of so-called “cross-border” employees, Moroccan workers who come and go daily between Morocco and Ceuta and Melilla, were exposed to the elements in the autonomous Spanish cities, unable to enter their country. They have been rescued by the Spanish authorities and humanitarian organizations.

Around 60 cross-border Moroccans remain housed in the La Libertad sports centre in Ceuta. There was the case of five young Moroccans who returned to swim from the Taraja jetty, in Ceuta, to enter their country irregularly, according to the local press Hespress.

On Sunday, March 15, with only one official death recognized due to the pandemic, Morocco already suspended all international flights and left only those strictly necessary to repatriate tourists to their countries of origin open.

On Monday, March 16, with 29 cases of contagion and only one death, Morocco closed all educational centres. This Saturday, March 21, with 96 infected and three dead, the national airline, Royal Air Maroc, suspended its domestic flights.

The National Railways Organization suspended long-distance lines and minimized the busiest, between Casablanca and Kenitra. Through the Moroccan border to Ceuta, hundreds of touring caravans have paraded throughout the week. But always in the direction of Spain. The gates to the country are closed.

The measures will undoubtedly affect an economy ten times smaller than the Spanish one. Tourism contributes to Morocco 7% of its GDP, compared to 15% in Spain. However, the substantial difference is that the social protection mattress available to the unemployed in the European Union is well above that of the unemployed in Morocco. However, the Moroccan government has also announced a battery of economic measures to help affected companies and individuals.

Morocco’s confinement rules come much earlier than in most affected countries and are harsher. But that does not mean that the authorities have not made mistakes. Thus, on Friday, March 13, a day of great influx to mosques, the imams received the slogan from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to raise awareness among parishioners in the fight against the pandemic. But instead of leading by example, religious authorities that day allowed the gathering of parishioners in the country’s 50,000 mosques.

However, on Monday, March 16, with only 29 cases of recognized infected, the Interior Ministry has already banned public gatherings of more than 50 people, cinemas, museums, cafes and restaurants have been closed. And the closure of the mosques was announced starting Friday, March 20.

Despite everything, people were still seen crowded into the buses. The authorities gave that same Friday afternoon another twist: they were only allowed to leave the home by means of a safe-conduct for work, health reasons or to make urgent purchases in the vicinity of the home.

Although production has not stopped in the country and authorized jobs are allowed, the measures have left the streets semi-empty. Military vehicles transit major cities, asking neighbours to stay at home through loudspeakers. And this Sunday the Government has asked the editors of newspapers and magazines to suspend their publications in the paper edition. Until new order.

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