The governments of North Africa have decided to armour themselves against COVID-19 during the holy month of Ramadan. The trend is repeated in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, where the authorities have decided to impose a new set of restrictions in the face of a significant increase in infections caused by the new variants that are circulating in the region, according to health authorities.
Despite the obvious similarities between the countries that make up the Maghreb, each government has chosen to deploy different measures in response to its specific situation. One point in favour of stabilising infections is the strong development of vaccination campaigns, especially in Morocco, which gives the Alawite Kingdom an advantage over its neighbours.
On 7 April, the Moroccan authorities imposed a night-time curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. to limit mobility for the next month. The measure came into force on the first day of Ramadan - the 13th - and will remain in force until the end of the month, i.e. 12 May. This is the second consecutive holy month to be celebrated with restrictions, and some members of the public have expressed their indignation with the government.
The Scientific and Technical Commission for COVID-19, in charge of managing the health situation in Morocco, justified the decision after announcing a slight increase in infections and the discovery of a new variant of the virus, detected in the southern city of Ouarzazate and present in seven regions. According to Azzedin Ibrahimi, director of the biotechnology laboratory at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy in Rabat, it can be classified as "100% Moroccan".
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Morocco has recorded a total of 506,000 cases and 8,945 deaths. Ministry of Health sources indicate that 364 new infections were detected yesterday and only one death was recorded. The Alawi Kingdom continues to lead the continent in terms of vaccination. Since its vaccination campaign began at the end of January, the health authorities have immunised almost 9 million people out of a total population of 36 million, and the pace continues to rise. Morocco is using vaccines from AstraZeneca and Sinopharm, and awaits the arrival of more doses from both companies and the COVAX programme.
The Algerian government has also reacted with palliative measures to the threat of the third wave. Riyad Mehdaoui, a member of the Ministry of Health's Scientific Committee in charge of monitoring the virus, admitted that the latest COVID-19 data in the country are "really worrying". Since the start of the pandemic, Algeria has recorded a total of 120,000 infections and 3,155 deaths, but infections have increased by 200% in recent days following the arrival of the British and Nigerian variants.
Yesterday, Algeria reported 156 new cases and 3 deaths. The government launched its vaccination campaign a day after Morocco, after receiving a total of 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The contract with the Russian government included the purchase of 1 million vaccines by May. In addition, Algiers last week concluded a new agreement with Moscow to produce the Russian vaccine on Algerian soil.
Despite the purchase of the doses, the Algerian-led vaccination campaign is progressing slowly. Only 15,000 doses have been inoculated so far, and the country's total population stands at 43 million people. Faced with this situation, the authorities have opted to impose restrictions limited to a total of 9 wilayas - administrative regions - including Algiers and Oran, with a curfew from 11pm to 4am. All prayers may still be held, but mosques may not be open for more than half an hour.
In Tunisia, the authorities have decreed the closure of primary and secondary schools and universities from this week until 30 April. They have also restricted the operation of public transport and banned traffic between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. except in emergencies.
The Tunisian government, under pressure from the catering industry, has ruled out the imposition of a curfew from 7pm, as had initially been announced. The Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, rectified his decision on 10 April and finally announced that the curfew would come into effect from 10 p.m. onwards. While shops can remain open to the public until then, private parties are still prohibited during the month of Ramadan.
Tunisia is among the five African countries with the highest number of new infections, according to CDC-Africa figures. Since last March, the country has recorded a total of 285,490 cases and more than 9,700 deaths. Yesterday saw 1,514 new infections and 66 deaths. The country has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the month. In addition, health authorities have warned of overcrowding in hospitals.
More than 225,900 people out of Tunisia's total population of 11.7 million have received at least one dose from Pfizer since the launch of the national vaccination campaign on 13 March. According to the latest figures released on Monday by the Ministry of Health, a total of 10,118 people were vaccinated on Sunday and another 33,019 received a second dose. In addition, more than 1.5 million people have registered on the digital vaccination platform evax.tn.
North Africa has been the second most affected region by COVID-19 in the whole continent after the south. However, unlike its southern neighbours, the Maghreb is the most advanced region in terms of immunisation against the virus in the whole of Africa due to the effect of Morocco. Yet the African continent is second only to Oceania in the immunisation race, and the gap to the next in line, Europe, is 160 million vaccines.