Morocco extends the state of health emergency until 10 April

More than a year after its entry into force, the government maintains it in an attempt to curb contagions
Moroccan police officers patrol the Derb El Kabir neighbourhood during curfew in Casablanca, Morocco.

PHOTO/AP  -   Moroccan police officers patrol the Derb El Kabir neighbourhood during curfew in Casablanca, Morocco.

The Moroccan government has issued an official communiqué informing that the state of health emergency will be maintained throughout the national territory until at least 10 April: "The Government Council, meeting in Rabat, decided to extend the state of health emergency throughout the national territory until 10 April 2021, as part of efforts to combat the spread of the pandemic". With this extension, they are extending the state of emergency that was decreed on 19 March 2020, which now exceeds one year in duration. 

Last week the decision was taken to maintain the curfew, in force since 23 December, until mid-March. Moroccan citizens will still have to stay at home and will not be allowed to travel on public roads between 21:00 and 6:00. In addition, restaurants, supermarkets, shops and other businesses will continue to close at 20:00. All this was decided on the basis of "the recommendations of the Scientific and Technical Commission on the need to maintain the necessary measures and procedures to combat COVID-19", according to the Kingdom authorities. 

It will also be necessary to wait to reopen the border crossings between Spain and Morocco. The autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla continue to have their accesses completely closed just a few weeks shy of a year since they were closed. Since then, they have only been used as humanitarian corridors for repatriations agreed by the competent authorities at the southern border of the cities. 

Torre del minarete de la mezquita Kutubiyya en la plaza Jemaa el-Fna de la ciudad marroquí de Marrakech, vacía de sus habituales multitudes por las restricciones de la pandemia
AFP/FADEL SENNA - The minaret tower of the Kutubiyya mosque in Jemaa el-Fna square in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, empty of its usual crowds due to pandemic restrictions.

The draft of the new decree renewing the state of health emergency from 10 March to 10 April would allow the government authority in charge of the interior to have greater freedom to take the measures they deem appropriate according to the evolution of the pandemic. Moreover, governors will have more independence in making decisions, as will prefectural staff. Maintaining public order, especially in terms of public health, has become a priority objective for Morocco, which hopes to improve its contagion figures thanks to these new measures. 

The Alawi kingdom, which has a population of more than 35 million, has officially recorded 484,753 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 8,653 deaths. With just over 500 new cases detected daily, the pandemic appears to be slowing down in Morocco, but it should also be noted that there is less and less testing for the virus, whether PCR or antigen testing. The health crisis had a disastrous impact on the country's economy and the unemployment rate reached 11.9 per cent in 2020, up from 9.2 per cent the previous year, due to the health crisis and drought. 

The government headed by Saad Eddine El Othmani has suspended all flights with some 15 countries in recent weeks. These include Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and South Africa. This, together with the vaccination campaign they are carrying out, raises hopes of containing the pandemic and beginning to think about economic recovery. The mobilisation of all available health personnel to administer the vaccine has so far managed to immunise more than 3.7 million Moroccan citizens, according to the Ministry of Health. The vaccines they are using for their population are the British company AstraZeneca, from which they have so far acquired seven million doses, and the Chinese company Sinopharm, with one million doses.

Saad Eddine El Othmani, primer ministro de Marruecos
PHOTO/UNTV via AP - Saad Eddine El Othmani, Prime Minister of Morocco

There is also the unknown of the different variants of the virus. There is still no evidence that the vaccines being distributed, whether the two acquired by Morocco, Pfizer or Moderna, offer immunity against strains such as the British or South African ones. For the time being, the Moroccan government prefers to maintain restrictions pending the resolution of some of these issues.