On March 2, 2020, the Moroccan Ministry of Health revealed the first COVID-19 case.
Following-up on that, Moroccan authorities implemented early-on multiple preventive measures and rapid strategies to control the widespread of the Coronavirus.
One of the most notable measures was the suspension of flights to and from France, Spain, and Algeria on March 13, 2020. Later on, authorities expanded these travel suspensions to all international flights until further notice on March 15, 2020.
The closing of borders, the suspension of flights, cruises, and passenger ships, and the restrictions on domestic flights at the first stage of the COVID-19 outbreak is showing how much Morocco did not underestimate the situation and learned from other countries’ mistakes. The travel ban also facilitated the tracking of the virus on the domestic level, unlike France or Italy, where despite a current general lockdown, the lack of implementation of preventive measures at the first stages of the spread made things stiff to control since they could not manage to protect the three populations that are at risk: the elderly, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and people with a fragile immune system.
To halt the virus, Morocco facilitated, like South Korea, the testing by making it free and available to all individuals that may have been exposed to infected patients or that are simply not feeling well. As a matter of fact, before the first case was announced, more than 100 individuals had already been tested. Which makes Morocco, the only country in the MENA region effectively assessing, and harshly tracking the number of Coronavirus cases.
Other drastic and strict measures were enforced such as the postponement of mass rallies, suspension of schools and universities to avoid any contagion, closing cafes, restaurants, cinema, theater halls, party halls, sports clubs, hammams, games rooms, nearby grounds, and the list goes on. More importantly, the Superior Council of Ulemas constructively cooperated with the Moroccan Government, and issued a religious opinion (fatwa) indicating the shut-down of all mosques in the country. In terms of public service and transportation, a reduction of the number of passengers per bus to 40 people has been noted. Companies such as Alsa Bus committed to distribute antiseptic gels to staff and users, clean and treat the buses at each terminal with bactericides. The cooperation between the Moroccan public, private, and non-profit or religious actors was key in putting into practice the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
In comparison to the majority of African countries, Morocco’s strong institutions, peaceful society, robust infrastructure, and several achievements on food security, have definitely helped policy-makers to draw a prompt response to exacerbate the Coronavirus panic, and dismiss spurious information around it. In countries such as Tanzania, Nigeria, or Ghana, due to resource scarcity, geopolitical tensions, and shaky governance, it will be onerous to sustain a steady strategy to annihilate the COVID-19 spread.
Moreover, following King Mohammed VI’s instructions, a special fund open for public contributions was created to manage the coronavirus, the donation from Moroccan corporations and Banks were so stupendous that the fund is totaling 16,89 Billion Dirhams (on March 18, 2020). The amount is overgrowing every day, being a vivid example of the Corporate Social Responsibility culture in Morocco.
The Moroccan authorities also identified some key hot spots of contagion in the North of the Kingdom, prepared the medical care staff, and set-up health care centers either military, private, public, or part of special institutes with 1640 beds in case a massive outbreak happens, including 250 beds reserved for patients whose cases are life-threatening.
Morocco’s public health sector isn’t as sophisticated as Japan’s, however, this safety-preparedness approach is not only a winning strategy, but it is also unprecedent for the majority of MENA countries, and even for some European countries.
The Moroccan government also made transparency and open-information its main weapon to win against the rapid spread by sharing daily with citizens any relevant information. As a matter of fact, all members of the Moroccan Government were tested and all of their results of the COVID-19 were instantly shared with the public. What is more fundamental, by donating their monthly salary to support the Moroccan special fund, the parliament and government members have shown their allegiance to the nation during these difficult times.
Controlling a general panic can be as hard of a task as controlling an outbreak, and since the COVID-19 pandemic came with various economic challenges, the Moroccan government expressed its commitment to crack down on any attempt at speculation likely to harm the national market supply. The Minister of Industry reassured Moroccan citizens that all goods will remain available. For its part, the General Confederation of Moroccan Companies announced after various meetings and evaluations that the inventories are sufficient for the coming months, that distribution channels remain under control, and that through a public-private partnership they are anticipating an exceptional demand that they are working on to meet its need.
Morocco also launched a “social-distancing” campaign by calling especially the young generation, millennials, to be responsible and to protect the vulnerable population. Instead of being divided, and letting voraciousness devour their hearts, Moroccans have made quarantine and social-distancing a national duty that unified the country. Additionally, they have voluntarily launched a virtual campaign on social media, through videos, Facebook publications, and tweets urging people to self-isolate. The level of consciousness and devotion to the community is a spirit that can rarely be found during frightful junctures.
Morocco’s clever crisis management will certainly help in stabilizing the outbreak and protect the defenseless population, which makes it a role model. By increasing the level of awareness among the Kingdom, Morocco is taking a step ahead to hopefully not having to deal with and be trapped in a stage 2 or 3 of the outbreak, because as they say “prevention is better than cure”, only this time, no cure is available, and only prevention works.
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 an International Affairs Think-Tank in Washington D.C where she works on Middle-East issues.
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.