The innovations behind Morocco’s internationally praised Covid-19 response

Morocco received praise from the EU at the end of April for its quick, effective and coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic
Factory of the Society for Precision Mechanical Studies and Achievements, chosen to produce artificial respirators for coronavirus patients

PHOTO/MAP  -   Factory of the Society for Precision Mechanical Studies and Achievements, chosen to produce artificial respirators for coronavirus patients

The country was one of the first in the MENA region to implement strict lockdown measures: schools were closed on March 13 and a state of emergency declared on March 19, later extended until June 10. An extensive programme of measures seems to be having an effect. While the total number of cases as of May 19 stood at 7023 and fatalities at 193, the daily mortality rate has dropped significantly since its peak in early to mid-April.

In the same announcement, the EU also joined organisations such as the Pan-African Parliament in welcoming King Mohammed VI’s proposal for a continental initiative to pool knowledge and resources in the fight against the virus. In addition, it was announced that the EU would provide €450m to Morocco’s Special Fund for the Management and Response to Covid-19, established on March 15 to upgrade health infrastructure and support the worst-affected sectors of the economy.

Industry steps up

As OBG has detailed, a central component of Morocco’s Covid-19 response has been broad-based industrial mobilisation. The country was well placed to leverage its industrial sector, which in recent years had been restructured in line with the Industrial Acceleration Plan 2014-20. During this period, more than 400,000 new jobs were created and 54 industrial systems established, including in automobiles, textiles and aeronautics.

Ministro de Industria
PHOTO/REUTERS - Morocco's Minister of Industry, Moulay Hafid Elalamy

The textile sector – which employed more than 185,000 workers in 1600 companies at the end of last year, representing 15% of industrial GDP – has proven particularly instrumental. In early March many textile and clothing firms began manufacturing medical masks, targeting a production capacity of 5m units by mid-April.

Alongside this, the Lamatem industrial unit in Berrechid – which was inaugurated in October 2019 and specialises in medical textiles – committed to meeting the state health system’s medical equipment needs. As a result of this mobilisation, the government was able to arrange the distribution of masks – through the networks of two dairy companies – to around 70,000 sales outlets, and fixed their price at Dh0.80 ($0.10). Subsequently, on April 7 it was made obligatory to wear medical masks in public spaces and workplaces.

Health care solutions

Alongside increases in production, researchers have been developing locally produced health care solutions. Soon after the lockdown was imposed, Rabat International University began producing and distributing masks to hospitals, as well as working on the development of a more durable type of mask. Meanwhile, in April a group of Moroccan engineers from Mohammed VI Polytechnic University announced the development of two “100% Moroccan” devices: an artificial respirator and an infrared thermometer.

Innovative digital approaches have also played a part, particularly in terms of the sharing of information. On March 30 the Ministry of Health launched an app for doctors and medical staff to pool strategies and know-how. Parallel to this, engineers, entrepreneurs and technicians launched a digital platform called Ingénierie VS COVID19MAROC (‘Engineering versus Covid-19, Morocco’), designed to share expertise and support essential workers with innovative engineering. Finally, French-Moroccan start-up Dakibot recently made available a free chatbot that provides automatic answers in Moroccan Arabic to coronavirus-related questions.

Contactless solutions point to a digital future

Beyond the medical sector, Morocco’s response to Covid-19 has been defined by the deployment of adaptive digital interfaces. For example, the Ministry of Education has set up an e-learning platform to ensure continuity in education, although concerns have been expressed as to the limited number of students who can access digital formats. Partly in response to such concerns, public television and radio are also programming content for students. To facilitate trade, Customs procedures can now be processed online through PortNet, a single window for foreign trade procedures.

Drones Marruecos
AFP/ FADEL SENNA - A drone equipped with a system for spraying disinfectant liquid, in a street in the district of Harhoura, near the Moroccan capital

“Morocco has embarked on a major digital transformation agenda that has been accelerated by Covid-19, particularly at the level of public administration, where the main challenge has been twofold: on the one hand ensuring the continuity of public services, and, on the other, ensuring remote work for public sector employees and civil servants during lockdown,” Mohamed Faïcal Nebri, head of strategy, development, cooperation and communication at Morocco’s Digital Development Agency, told OBG.

Furthermore, applications are also being used to support more specific, vulnerable portions of society. Women are likely to be disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences of the pandemic. As part of its programme to support female entrepreneurs in Morocco, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has launched a series of online training courses to strengthen crisis management and digital marketing skills in light of the pandemic.

Hospital Marruecos
Interior of a hospital in Morocco

In total, more than 2.4m Moroccans work in the informal sector, and are hence particularly at risk. To address this, soon after lockdown began the Economic Monitoring Committee set up a digital database on which people without a social security number are able to register for economic support. By entering their name and ID card number, they receive a text message authorising them to withdraw a lump sum, calculated according to the size of their household, at one of 10,000 banks and ATMs across the country.

Going forward, it has been speculated that this initiative could be leveraged to incorporate more informal workers into the formal economy. All in all, digital innovations have streamlined a number of areas of the economy in potentially permanent ways. It is hoped that processes and technologies developed in response to the pandemic can be adapted and maintained once it has subsided.

“Today the momentum has been unleashed but there is still work to be done to avoid the risk of going back to old habits in the aftermath of the pandemic,” Nebri told OBG. “Therefore, it is crucial to pursue digital transformation and hedge against a potential slowdown, all the while supporting partners in order to instil a digital culture in Morocco and enhance value added.”