Nearly three months after the Moroccan government implemented a nationwide lockdown, restrictive measures are finally starting to ease up.
By Safaa Kasraoui, Yahia Hatim
Rabat — Morocco has entered a new phase of its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, through extending the state of health emergency and easing lockdown measures, Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani has announced.
El Othmani made the announcement on Wednesday, June 10, at the House of Representatives, during a session to discuss the government’s strategy for fighting COVID-19 over the upcoming months.
Morocco has so far “managed to avoid the worst,” El Othmani reiterated, saying that Moroccans, regular citizens, and decision-makers have made great efforts to help the country avoid a high case count and death toll.
Moroccans should feel proud of themselves for their solidarity and patriotism, the head of government said before thanking people on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, including medical staff, security services, and local authorities.
El Othmani also thanked workers and employees in the private sector who helped maintain the economic supply chain, especially in essential fields. “We do not have any deficiencies in food supply,” he remarked.
Extended state of emergency, eased lockdown
Before announcing the government’s strategy for restarting the national economy while keeping the country’s epidemiological situation under control, El Othmani explained the difference between the state of health emergency and the lockdown.
The state of emergency is a legal framework that allows the government to implement proactive measures, while the lockdown is one of the preventive measures the government has implemented within this framework.
While Morocco’s state of emergency will remain in place until at least July 10 at 6 p.m., the lockdown will start easing up on the evening of June 10.
Extending the state of emergency is standard in such circumstances, El Othmani said, citing decisions of countries such as Spain or France which, according to him, have extended their state of emergency up to six times.
With no vaccine or efficient treatment for COVID-19 available, the lockdown remains the only effective solution to curb the pandemic, El Othmani argued.
However, due to the regional disparities in the epidemiological situation, the lockdown measures will differ from one region to another.
The government has categorized each Moroccan region and province into one of two zones.
“In the first zone, lockdown measures are greatly alleviated, while in the second zones, measures will ease up at a relatively slower pace,” El Othmani said.
The first zone includes 80% of Moroccan regions and provinces, 95% of Morocco’s territory, and 61% of the country’s population, he added.
Meanwhile, the second zone only includes 16 regions and provinces. However, it also includes 87% of the country’s COVID-19 cases.
Residents of the first zone will have the right to move freely outside of their homes without special authorization. Businesses such as beauty salons and hairdressers in Zone 1 are also now allowed to resume their activity, as long as they do not exceed 50% of their client capacity.
Meanwhile, Zone 2 residents can only leave their homes for essential grocery shopping, work, or medical emergencies. However, the majority of businesses are now allowed to resume operations, as long as they respect several safety regulations.
Despite the new alleviated measures, Moroccans, in spite of where they live, must continue to respect health and safety measures, such as wearing face masks in public and avoiding gatherings.
Operations of other businesses that are based on social gathering, such as cinemas, theaters, and cultural centers, also remain prohibited, El Othmani recalled, explaining that the government will regularly update the measures, depending on the evolution of the country’s epidemiological situation.
COVID-19 under control
Morocco has brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control completely in Zone 1, and to a relatively lesser extent in Zone 2, El Othmani announced.
The country has a 2.5% fatality rate, he said, qualifying the figure as “a great achievement.”
Only 2.5% of the current active COVID-19 cases in Morocco are in critical condition and approximately 92% of the patients suffer no or mild symptoms, the head of government revealed.
The “controlled” epidemiological situation is the main reason why the government decided to start easing up lockdown measures.
Recalling the government’s extension of the lockdown during Eid al-Fitr, El Othmani said that the decision was necessary to protect Moroccans.
“Financial and economic losses can be compensated, but human losses cannot,” he added, reiterating that the government adopted a humanitarian approach in its response to the pandemic.
Fight is ongoing
While the majority of indicators are positive, the fight against the pandemic is still far from over, El Othmani warned, giving the example of recent COVID-19 hotspots that health authorities detected in Rabat, Marrakech, and Casablanca.
While all Moroccans are hoping to move quickly to the next phase, the government will only take decisions based on the Ministry of Health’s weekly reports about the epidemiological situation, El Othmani said.
“If indicators are positive, we will move forward. If not, we will take the necessary measures,” he continued.
In case of a positive evolution of the epidemiological situation, the government will allow the resumption of more economic activities, such as intercity travel, domestic tourism, and even gatherings.
However, Moroccans must remain patient to make further achievements towards fully containing the outbreak, El Othmani said: “We should not ruin our positive results with impatience.”
The head of government also called on Moroccans to be vigilant as the lockdown measures ease up to avoid backtracking progress.
Public administrations resume work
The Moroccan public administrations that have not been fully operational are also set to resume their services. In the first zone, all public servants will return to their duties, except those suffering from chronic diseases. In the second zone, only public servants who work in front offices will return to work, based on the administrations’ capacities.
The new eased measures are expected to help the Moroccan economy gradually recover, El Othmani said.
The economy has already started bouncing back, he continued, explaining that economic growth has climbed from a 30% annual deficit in April to 20% in June, and will continue on a positive trend to reduce the losses.
Government mechanisms will continue to help Moroccan businesses recover, especially in the hardest-hit fields such as tourism, El Othmani concluded.