Morocco is carrying out Operation Marhaba under the threat of the Delta variant

Morocco is carrying out Operation Marhaba under the threat of the Delta variant
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On 15 June, Morocco opened its borders to welcome Moroccans living abroad, also known as Operation Marhaba. During the summer, thousands of citizens return to their country to be reunited with their families. Many of these Moroccans live in European countries where the Delta variant of the coronavirus is predominant. For this reason, the Alawi government is developing strong health measures affecting all Moroccans wishing to return home this summer.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the Delta strain will account for 90% of COVID-19 cases in the European Union by the end of August. This variant, which is particularly contagious and has different symptoms from the general virus, is already responsible for almost 70% of new infections.

Faced with this situation, and the fear of causing a wave of contagion in the Kingdom, Rabat has created a classification within countries: List A and List B. Citizens arriving from List A countries can enter the country with a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test, while those arriving from List B countries must comply with a series of measures. Travellers arriving from these places must undergo a 10-day isolation and present a negative PCR test 48 hours prior to travel.

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The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs also reported that "there will probably be no flights from List B countries". "To come to Morocco, it will be necessary to come via a third country and to have prior authorisation. A 10-day quarantine in a non-hospital structure is required," the Ministry added.

This category includes states such as Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It also includes several Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Panama and Paraguay. Ukraine, where there are 10,000 Moroccan students, is also on the B list. For these young people, the return home will be particularly hard. They will have to buy a very expensive plane ticket, pay for the PCR test and stay in isolation for 10 days in a hotel chosen by the authorities. This stay will have to be paid for by the person carrying out the quarantine. 

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The father of students in Ukraine shared his dissatisfaction in the Arabic newspaper Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribia, pointing out the financial strain of a 10-day stay in a hotel. For this reason, he proposed that quarantines could be carried out in university residences or hostels. He said he was "shocked" by this measure, while his daughters saw "their hopes of returning to Morocco this summer evaporating".

However, health authorities remind that these restrictions guarantee the safety of all, although Moroccans coming from List B countries continue to express their anger. Many of them have preferred to stay in their residence or change their destination. On the other hand, some of those who did decide to travel protested on arrival, as happened at Casablanca airport.

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In contrast, the countries with which Morocco has maritime routes (France, Italy and Portugal) are not on List B, so only a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test is required. Citizens from places in category A have also arrived by air. According to data from the National Airports Office, 126,966 people landed in Morocco during the week of 15-21 June, coinciding with the opening of borders. This figure represents 98.5% of international arrivals. On the other hand, only 1,844 passengers arrived from List B nations.

Despite the low incidence of infection in the Kingdom and the development of the vaccination process, the health authorities continue to urge caution and remind that "Morocco is not immune to a new wave of infection".