Hicham Tahiri-Alaoui, NESA Alumnus
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, most underestimated the impact and scale of the virus. Citizens in Morocco thought this epidemic and later pandemic, would follow the course of previous health crises that spread on a more limited scale. The decision-makers, on the other hand, were anxiously observing the quick and unpredictable spread of the pandemic in other countries. The authorities were also well aware of the heavy economic, political, and social toll Covid-19 would take on Moroccans in the near future.
Different government actions and their implications
On 17 March, the Moroccan government banned all gatherings. Cafes, schools, mosques and some public service administrations were under closure directives. When the first cases of infection were identified in Morocco, numerous economic sectors were already heavily stressed. Tourism turned out to be the most vulnerable economic sector; it was totally paralyzed because of the quarantine measures taken by nearly all the countries around the world. Other fields of services were also impacted with vital industries struggling to continue production.
On 20 March, the Moroccan government declared a “health emergency.” More robust security measures were taken and security forces were deployed to ensure compliance with the government measures. All media outlets were mobilized to educate and instruct the public about the virus’s danger. On 22 March, 104 cases of the virus were confirmed and the real extent of the challenge was seen with the daily growing number of infections.
Communication was extensively used to keep citizens informed of the challenges to come. There were calls for Moroccan solidarity, and information campaigns aimed at countering rumors intended to mislead and misinform the public. The pandemic was the first topic discussed by the national media each day. Official channels were also continuously providing the public with information about the number of infections and steps to take for prevention. The Ministry of Health published updated and transparent data on a daily basis, using a website to provide easy access to information and to increase awareness about the epidemiological situation in the country. Private media was also involved in raising awareness of the dangers of the virus.
Controlling the spread of the virus was not possible without a “lockdown.” The role of the Ministry of Interior was key in organizing a wide range of interventions throughout all of Morocco. These proactive measures were enacted daily, around the clock, with public and private media campaigns to inform the Moroccans of the importance of preventative and “lockdown” measures. “Confinement” was seen as the only effective national measure at the time to counter and slow the spread of infection.
Means deployed to fight Covid-19
Medical teams were not prepared for such huge and drastic changes. They were in shortage of medical supplies such as masks. The government prioritized the provision of medical care supplies. Two methods were used to overcome the equipment shortage. First, the Moroccan government launched immediate financial support for industrial projects aimed at making the needed medical equipment. This measure proved to be fruitful, as newly lunched factories were able to produce up to five million face masks per day. The wide range of facial mask production and distribution was intended to preserve the health of citizens and avoid their contamination. This initiative emerged at a time when facial masks were subject to sudden high demand while the global market ran out of supplies. The second measure was the importation of artificial breathing machines. Along with importation, locally-produced non-invasive ventilators are supposed to already be in use in order to help meet demand. Intensive care beds are expected to rise to 3 per 1,000 people from 1.640.
Education was directly impacted by the lockdown and alternative teaching methods needed to be pursued. Remote education turned out to be the only option teachers and students were left with. The Ministry of Education tried to provide courses on official TV channels and online; however, not all students were equally equipped with the appropriate tools to keep up with this new, more challenging mode of operating. Very few initiatives were in place to address or provide students in remote and poverty-stricken areas with electronic devices, as thus as a result, the initiative did not provide a comprehensive solution. Hence, public outcries arose and demanded equal access to remote education. At the same time, the Ministry of Education is still insisting on students sitting for the finals this year, despite ongoing efforts to provide remote education to the affected students.
Students and parents are also facing new demands, as the different methods of teaching have proven more challenging and in some cases less successful or efficient. Teachers, on the other hand, are desperately trying a variety of methods to cover the remaining academic curricula in the best possible way. On a more positive note, around 15% of teachers used Google Classroom before the lockdown, which made the continuum easier for some.
The Ministry of Education has established various collaborations with civil society and many other strategic partners to provide a variety of educational offers/opportunities. For instance, a competition was launched recently called “A Star From Home”, in collaboration with Artwork Association and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) to encourage the development and creative sharing of talents for extracurricular activities at home.
All administrative services were suspended at the beginning of the lockdown. The existing electronic platforms were of tremendous help to continue some administrative services. At the same time, additional services are being offered and developed remotely aimed at avoiding person-to-person contact.
Massive numbers of citizens have lost their income sources. The government reacted to this situation by providing financial aid to businesses and individuals in these difficult financial situations. All citizens facing economic hardships due to the lockdown were provided financial support. Financial assistance to people living in remote areas were accomplished by cash transfers via their mobile cells.
Early detection was the primary tool used to limit the infection. However, even the tremendous efforts implemented by the government was able to slow, but not stop the spread of the virus. The government continues to put any potential carriers of the virus in quarantine for the required 14 days.
Gatherings are still strictly prohibited. Citizens refusing to comply are subject to legal penalties. Only people with authorization, provided by the local authorities, are allowed to move around their city of residence. These measures, along with the mandatory wearing of facial masks, are seen as providing Morocco the required confinement period which is scheduled to end on 20 May. The “reopening”, however, is not expected to be a total one. It is expected to include the essential economic activities. This cautious first step will be taken in order to avoid a second wave of outbreak. This new and unpredictable Coronavirus is unlikely to disappear, so we will have to live with the social, economic and political results of the virus while continuing to take measures to deal with the disease itself.