The coronavirus crisis continues unabated in Morocco. The North African country is going through some delicate weeks in terms of health, marked by the exponential increase in infections, a scenario that has forced Rabat to establish a new series of restrictions to alleviate the adverse effects of the pandemic.
The Moroccan Ministry of Health published on Tuesday a bimonthly report that compiles data related to COVID-19. The head of the infectious diseases division, Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih, presented the contents of the document and revealed a 91% increase in the number of new cases in the last two weeks. The health representative announced that the government was entering a new phase in the spread of the virus.
For this reason, the Moroccan authorities are considering administering a third dose of the vaccine to citizens who require it for health reasons. If approved, Morocco would follow in the footsteps of France and Israel, two countries that already inoculate an additional dose in the immunisation schedule. The emergence of the Delta variant, which is 60 per cent more contagious, is a major reason for this decision.
Rabat will confine the population between 11 p.m. and 4.30 a.m. except in exceptional cases. Workers in essential activities and citizens claiming health reasons are exempted. Movements will therefore be limited in a measure aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and its variants. In this regard, the authorities will require the presentation of a COVID-19 vaccination passport or, failing that, an administrative permit for travel between provinces.
The capacity of certain venues and establishments will continue to be reduced by up to 50%. This includes restaurants, shops, sports facilities and public transport, among others. The maximum number of people at meetings and activities in open spaces must not exceed 50, and authorisation will be required if this figure is exceeded. Finally, weddings and parties will be banned and the maximum number of people attending funerals will be set at 10.
The new restrictions will come into effect from 23 June at 11 p.m., i.e. after the end of Eid al-Adha, Islam's biggest holiday. In addition, the authorities do not rule out imposing further restrictions. A new, more aggressive package of measures is therefore expected to be adopted
Since the start of the pandemic, the UK has recorded a total of 562,000 cases and 9,486 deaths. In the last 24 hours, the authorities have recorded 3,631 new infections and up to 20 deaths. A total of 81 people have died in the past week, a record number in the last five months. The number of deaths has also increased slightly in recent days. From an average of five deaths per day, Morocco has now recorded an average of 15.
Infections have been detected in several parts of the Kingdom, but the most affected region has been Casablanca-Settat, with an increase in the number of cases of 21.3%, higher than the country's average. The other side of the coin is the Fez-Menkes region, which has a subtle increase of 2.6%, the best figure compared to the rest of the territory.
There are two main reasons for the new spike in the virus. Firstly, the massive arrival of Moroccan nationals returning to the Kingdom during the summer period; secondly, the presence of the Delta variant, which has been detected in several places in Morocco. In this scenario, both the authorities and the local media are already talking about an "epidemiological peak".
The only way to avoid the imposition of new restrictions is mass vaccination. The campaign launched by Rabat in January aimed to immunise 70 per cent of its more than 36 million inhabitants by the end of the year, but the figures are far from the plan. To date, 26.38% of the Moroccan population has received the full regimen, i.e. nearly 10 million people have been immunised.
Ninety-four per cent of the vaccinated people in Africa are Moroccans, a figure that underlines the superiority and leadership of the Alawi Kingdom over its neighbours. Behind Morocco, at an abysmal distance, are South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. To extend its lead, Rabat will start producing doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm following the signing of an agreement between the Asian giant and the pharmaceutical company Sothema.
These figures have prompted Rabat's latest decisions on tourism. The Kingdom has once again reinforced its borders and tightened the conditions for accessing the country, to the point of including France, Spain and Portugal on the 'B' list of countries with poor epidemiological evolution. Morocco went so far as to close the sea route connecting the French port of Sète with the North African country, weeks after blocking Operation Crossing the Strait with Spain for the second consecutive year.
All travellers from France, Spain or Portugal will also have to present a negative PCR carried out 48 hours before entering Morocco and obtain an exceptional authorisation to travel. Visitors will also be tested again on the ninth day in order to be able to leave the isolation protocol. Those who have received both doses will only need to present a vaccination certificate and the corresponding test, leaving the quarantine period behind. Children under 11 years of age are exempted from the PCR stipulated for all other age groups.
Morocco is mobilising all the means at its disposal to minimise the incidence of the virus, even if this means again limiting the mobility of Moroccans and restricting entry into the country. "We are far from the target set at 0.7 as part of the national plan to monitor and combat COVID-19," Bellefquih stressed.