The study by the High Commission for Planning comes two days before the Moroccan government determines the future of the nationwide lockdown.
HCP lauded Morocco’s tackling of the pandemic, saying, “Morocco was able to quickly capitalize on the lessons from international experience in the fight against this particularly virulent and contagious virus.” The ministerial body perceives the introduction of the lockdown on March 20 as a highly effective measure that saved the lives of thousands of Moroccans.
The novel coronavirus has a high contagion rate yet a low mortality rate. In Morocco, recoveries constitute 53.3% of all confirmed cases, while fatalities represent 2.8%, and few patients—8.4 of 36 million citizens—are in the high-risk group due to age or a chronic disease.
According to HCP, the lockdown reduced the average rate of the virus’s transmission, called R0 by health experts, from 2.7 to 1.36. For the pandemic to fade out, the R0 needs to fall below 1.0.
The publication of the HCP study on May 16 comes two days before Morocco’s government is set to announce the next steps for the lockdown on May 18. Morocco planned to lift the lockdown on May 20, but sources close to the government are forecasting a 15-day extension.
Morocco’s Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb expressed concern in an interview on May 8 that too hasty lockdown “could cost Morocco a lot.” The HCP study’s findings support his view.
HCP concludes that under the most pleasurable scenario, infections would increase eightfold. The increase would double the need for the reanimation beds and result in a collapse of the national ambition to hospitalize every active case. Every deconfinement option remains potentially dangerous for public health, HCP warned.
For the sake of the study’s clarity, the ministerial body estimates the number of active cases at 2,000 at the start of de-confinement. The benchmark for the study’s estimations is July 1, which marks more than 100 days since the introduction of the lockdown in Morocco.
Scenario 1: Natural evolution
Every other scenario is based on Scenario 1, a “textbook” example of how the disease would spread if Morocco introduced no security measures. If the government allowed for the “natural evolution” of COVID-19, 80% of Moroccans would get sick before the society would reach herd immunity.
Scenario 2: Trending
The “trending” scenario assumes that the measures would stay as they are now, so the lockdown would not be lifted. The R0 would gradually decrease and there would be approximately 7,800 infections by July. The R0 would continue decreasing to reach 0.76, the level of disappearance.
Because there is no COVID-19 vaccine or herd immunity yet, despite the R0 reaching the level of disappearance, the risk for a rebound would remain high. The “trending” scenario, therefore, comes at enormous economic cost without a guarantee for effectiveness.
Scenario 3: General deconfinement
The third scenario assumes lifting the lockdown for everyone who is not at high risk of contracting the virus, allowing approximately 27.5 million Moroccans to resume their normal activities. The scenario further splits in two: One assuming continued self-protection (face masks, hand sanitizer, etc.) and one envisaging lifting the self-protective measures.
Under the “general” scenario with self-protection, the R0 would reach 1.26. In July, 8% of the population would be infected, meaning that if only 10% of the cases would be hospitalized, the healthcare would experience overloading within 62 days.
Without self-protective measures, 50% of Moroccans would be infected in July, overloading the hospitals in only 28 days with the continuous assumption that 10% of those infected need hospitalization.
Scenario 4: Wide deconfinement
If professionally active Moroccans, together with youth under 15 years old—both groups without chronic diseases—were allowed to resume their activities, the number of de-confined Moroccans would reach 16.7 million. With self-protective measures, R0 would place itself at 0.94, which means there would be 31,663 COVID-19 infections in July.
Without self-protection, the infection number would reach 844,000 cases. Under the scenario, the healthcare system would be overloaded in 50 days with only 7% of infected patients being hospitalized.
Scenario 5: Restraint
The most restricted of the de-confinement scenarios assumes that only the working Moroccans under 65 and without a chronic illness would be allowed for de-confinement (7.9 million). Under the scenario, accounting for self-protection measures in place, Morocco would experience 18,720 infected cases by July. Without self-protection, the cases will jump to 155,920 by July, overloading the country’s healthcare capacity in 75 days.
What to expect?
HCP does not provide any recommendations for deconfinement; yet, given the spike in cases coming with abandoning self-protection, it seems self-evident that the Moroccan government will maintain the order to wear protective equipment in public places. The Moroccan government will reveal the future of the country’s lockdown tomorrow, May 18.