After several responsible steps, the Moroccan government must declare a two-week state of emergency to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Washington D.C. – After several responsible steps, the Moroccan government must declare a two-week state of emergency to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
While the decision to suspend all international flights to and from Morocco will help stop tourists and other travelers from carrying COVID-19 into the country, the virus can still spread beyond control and become disastrous if Moroccans continue to lead their normal lives.
The government has closed mosques, restaurants, stadiums, gyms, and other public facilities. Morocco must now declare a state of emergency as soon as possible.
The confirmed number of infected people in Morocco does not currently exceed 39 cases, but it is possible that other cases exist. If those who are infected continue to lead normal lives, they will quickly transfer the virus to others and amplify the scale of the outbreak.
However, a government-mandated lockdown that requires Moroccans to stay at home for a two-week period would allow authorities to effectively track down and treat new COVID-19 cases, thus containing the spread of the virus.
Learning from Italy and Spain
Many say that Morocco should not take such an extreme step, that the measures it has taken so far are sufficient enough to allow the competent authorities to identify those who may have had contact with patients and to control the virus. However, this reading does not learn from the mistakes made by Italy and Spain.
Morocco is faced with a dilemma: Either we overreact in dealing proactively with this epidemic, or we procrastinate in taking the necessary decisions, putting our country, its economic security, and the lives of millions of Moroccans at risk.
To be sure, declaring a state of emergency and asking Moroccans to stay in their homes will be difficult for many to accept. Such a drastic decision would result in suspending the economy and putting the livelihood of millions of Moroccans at risk.
However, given the threat that the coronavirus poses to the health and safety of Moroccans and to the country’s security, I believe that the government should not delay this decision.
In this critical juncture, it would be wise for King Mohammed VI to deliver a speech urging his people to follow recommended safety measures and assuring that the government is working tirelessly to secure the safety and health of Moroccans and is ready to take unprecedented measures to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on middle- and lower-income households.
Morocco should learn from Italy and Spain, who did not make this decision until the virus had already spread beyond control.
What led to the exponential increase in COVID-19 infections in Italy and Spain was the failure of both governments to take serious proactive decisions such as declaring a state of emergency to stop the spread of the virus, as well as the failure of the Spanish and Italian people to take the necessary measures to protect themselves from the disease.
Creating a safety net
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 epidemic will cause serious economic, social, and human damage—not only while economic activity is grinding to a halt, but even after the disease is under control.
The group that will suffer the most from the coronavirus-induced economic crisis in Morocco includes small shop owners, workers in the construction sector and the hospitality industry, as well as other tertiary industry workers who do not benefit from health insurance or other means of protection against this type of disaster.
While a non-negligible segment of Moroccans are able to face the looming challenges of COVID-19, millions of Moroccans are devoid of the financial means to weather the economic and social fallout of this outbreak.
Millions of Moroccans who do not own their homes will be unable to pay their monthly rent and water, electricity, and internet bills. In addition, many small businesses will be unable to pay their bank loans. Each and every Moroccan must be aware that the coronavirus will have a ripple effect and cripple the entire economy for months to come, exposing millions of workers, small businesses, and investors to bankruptcy.
Consequently, the Moroccan government must take unprecedented measures to mitigate the economic impact of the epidemic on the country’s most vulnerable groups.
The government should consider allocating a budget to meet the needs of vulnerable groups that do not enjoy social security or have savings that will enable them to weather the disastrous economic fallouts of the outbreak. It should also follow in the steps of the French government and suspend the payment of basic utility bills such as water, electricity, and internet.
The government should also ask banks to postpone the payment of loans owed by consumers and business customers for a period of no less than three or four months, as was done in many countries.
Calling upon faith and patriotism
In these tough times, one hopes that our shared religious values will push Moroccans from the upper and middle classes towards solidarity with their needy brothers and sisters—and to remind them that a portion of the money they possess belongs to the needy and the deprived, as stated in the Holy Quran.
If in normal times a significant segment of society has been driven by excessive consumption and individualism, failing to perform their duty of Zakat (alms), then the time has come to reconcile with their religious values.
Despite all the efforts that the government will make to mitigate the damage of the pandemic on the Moroccan economy, it will not succeed in its mission unless all Moroccans—including businessmen, large companies, doctors in the private sector, private clinics, and civil society groups—join the government’s efforts to help the country emerge stronger once the outbreak comes under control.
This is a litmus test for all Moroccans, both inside and outside Morocco. All Moroccans are required to help their country withstand the damaging economic and social effects of the coronavirus.
These exceptional circumstances also require influential Moroccans to take extraordinary decisions to positively impact the way the country addresses the outbreak.
The government must urge the wealthiest to carry out their national duty to help the country overcome the ordeal it will face, as stipulated in Article 40 of the Moroccan constitution: “Everyone must bear, in solidarity, and in proportion to their means, the costs required for the country’s development, as well as those resulting from the impact of tragedies and natural disasters that affect the country.”
Rich Moroccans have built their wealth thanks to the tax breaks and other privileges that they enjoy, and thanks to the dedication of Moroccan professionals, workers, and consumers. In this unprecedented context, wealthy Moroccans must show their patriotism and their eagerness to protect the interests of the country.
The decision of some wealthy Moroccans such as Othman Benjelloun or Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch to donate billions of dirhams to the government’s COVID-19 fund is heart-warming and should push more wealthy Moroccans to follow their lead.
Standing in solidarity
Every Moroccan must express solidarity with our Moroccan brothers and sisters. For example, Moroccans who had planned to travel during the summer holidays, perform Umrah during the month of Ramadan, or perform the Hajj rituals could allocate a percentage of the money they saved for these purposes to help Moroccans who will have a hard time securing their basic needs.
Every year, Moroccans spend billions of dirhams on travel, both inside and outside Morocco, or for performing Umrah or Hajj. For example, the 900,000 Moroccans who visited Spain in 2018 spent more than MAD 5.2 billion ($539 million). In 2019, Moroccan tourists in Turkey spent more than MAD 6 billion ($621 million).
In total, Moroccan tourists’ expenses abroad reached MAD 21 billion ($2.17 billion) last year, in addition to the money that Moroccans spend performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages.
The figures show the existence of a class of Moroccans with enough wealth to help the country mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the Moroccan economy.
Assuming these Moroccans allocate 25% of their tourism and recreation expenses to express solidarity with the government and their fellow Moroccans, they pump MAD 5 billion ($517.7 million) into the economy, amounting to 50% of the government’s fund to counter the consequences of COVID-19.
Moreover, assuming that one million middle- and high-income Moroccans, including Moroccans living abroad, could allocate MAD 1,000 ($103) of their monthly income to help their relatives and friends for at least three or four months, they would inject MAD 10 billion ($1.04 billion) a month into the national economy.
These donations would greatly contribute to mitigating the impact of the coronavirus on the Moroccan economy as a whole and to help vulnerable groups survive the crisis.
Senior officials including ministers, CEOs of major state companies, and MPs, along with athletes and artists should allocate part of their monthly salaries towards a fund dedicated to helping those in need and economically impacted by the pandemic.
This is the right time to demonstrate solidarity, patriotism, and faith. Any amount that Moroccans can set aside to help needy friends or relatives will have an incredible impact on the national economy and on the morale of millions of Moroccans who are suffering from great anxiety during these difficult circumstances.