The Coronavirus pandemic has had wide-ranging repercussions beyond the proliferation of the infection itself, including psychosocial repercussions.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Coronavirus pandemic generally affects all fragments of the population. However, vulnerable social groups will be affected more significantly than others. These social groups include people living in poverty and rural areas, individuals with disabilities, isolated older adults, and the youth. Morocco has, in this sense, taken several measures to support individuals and families that suffered from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Moroccan Minister for the Economy, Mohamed Benchaâboun, announced in late April a financial aid to 4.3 million families who rely on the informal sector or precarious trade activities for their income. It is an effective way to re-orient these individuals towards the formal sector, identify and quantify the magnitude of the Moroccan grey economy, and minimize the social exclusion that might emerge after this pandemic.
It is important to note that the economic damages of the COVID-19 pandemic will be inevitable. Germany, for instance, Europe’s largest economy, entered a recession and shrank by 2.2% in the first three months of 2020. Other countries in the Middle-East, such as Kuwait or Oman, are also struggling to manage a reopening of their economies. Even Japan, the third-largest economy that was praised for its successful containment policies, entered a recession for the first time since 2015. The Moroccan government anticipated these uncertain times and created the COVID-19 Fund that gathered more 3.3 billion U.S. dollars as of April 24, 2020, that might be a temporary countershock.
Consequently, the implementation of any future damage control public policies by the Moroccan government should also take seriously into consideration the social and psychological factors that can either be a positive or destructive engines for growth. It has already been demonstrated, for instance, how much unemployment and financial stressors are leading risk factors for suicide. It is still unclear how the strict enforcement of social distancing, self-isolation, and travel restrictions affected Moroccans and their behavior during this pandemic. Still, one can anticipate the social impacts of the economic damages related to the coronacrisis such as unemployment, according to The Lancet Journal: « There is some evidence that deaths by suicide increased in the USA during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, and among older people in Hong Kong during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic. » For these reasons, following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations on mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak will be crucial. Some of the recommendations above can be considered by Moroccan policy-makers :
- – Amplifying positive and hopeful stories and positive images of local people who have experienced COVID-19.
- – Honoring healthcare workers supporting people affected by COVID-19 in local communities.
- – Keeping health facilities staff protected from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response.
- – Managing urgent mental health and neurological complaints (e.g., delirium, psychosis, severe anxiety, or depression) within emergency or general healthcare facilities.
- – Ensuring the availability of essential, generic psychotropic medications at all levels of health care. People living with long-term mental health conditions or epileptic seizures will need uninterrupted access to their medication, and sudden discontinuation should be avoided.
- – Older adults, especially in isolation and those with cognitive decline/dementia, may become more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated, and withdrawn during the outbreak or while in quarantine. Helping them with practical and emotional support through informal networks and health professionals is essential.
In his book, Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events, the Economist and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller stated that psychological effects of narratives that people believe have a considerable macroeconomic impact, he said: « If we do not understand the epidemics of popular narratives, we do not fully understand changes in the economy and economic behavior. »
It has been noted how much the pandemic made Moroccans revive their culture of solidarity and appreciate more their local shops and industries, because they believed in the policies that were put into place on March 2020 to contain the spread, and saw early-on the results, since unlike many countries, Morocco avoided the shortage of medical devices and was able to create Made in Morocco face masks. As stories and narratives drive major economic events, anticipating the psychosocial impact of the Coronacrisis on Moroccans, and carrying out policies that instead of painting a gloomy portrait of the situation can drive positive events, will eventually lessen the damage.
Zineb Riboua is a Graduate Student at HEC Paris and a Master of Public Policy candidate at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University.
She is currently an intern at the Altantic Council, where she works on Middle-East issues.
She is a non-resident fellows at the Amadeus Institute.
She was also a Scholar at Harvard on International Relations and has several experiences in Government Affairs in Morocco.
She holds a certificate in International Relations & Politics from Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, and International Development from Warwick University.