When Morocco announced it will selectively open borders from July 15, citizens and residents stuck abroad rejoiced. But those in the US are struggling to meet the Moroccan government’s stringent COVID-19 testing requirements.
Rabat – With Morocco set to open its borders Wednesday to Moroccan citizens, residents, and their families, many are celebrating the opportunity to finally return home or reunite with loved ones. But qualified travelers in the US are facing a major roadblock: Insufficient COVID-19 testing.
The Moroccan government has strict regulations in place to ensure that the July 15 border opening does not trigger a new wave of COVID-19 infections in the North African country.
Travelers over the age of 11 must take a PCR test and a serological test less than 48 hours before departing for Morocco to prove they are not carrying the virus.
While this requirement aims to preserve public health and potentially pave the way for a more inclusive border reopening in the future, many in the US are more uncertain than ever as to when they will be able to travel to Morocco.
Hurdles to COVID-19 tests
Amid the Trump administration’s failure to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, American hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as the country registers tens of thousands of new cases every day.
PCR tests are in such high demand that most certified testing centers are only testing people with COVID-19 symptoms, a Moroccan citizen in the US, who chose to remain anonymous, told Morocco World News.
Some PCR testing centers also require a referral from a primary care physician, who will only approve referrals if a patient displays symptoms of the virus.
This presents a clear obstacle for Moroccan citizens, residents, and family members who simply wish to be cleared to travel to Morocco and do not have COVID-19 symptoms—or, given the United States’ privatized healthcare system, access to a primary care physician for a referral.
At some test centers that do not require a referral from a physician, those looking for a test must fill out and sign a questionnaire in which they vow they are being truthful about having COVID-19 symptoms, the source explained.
Alternatively, the test applicant must be a doctor, a nurse, a senior living in a shared living facility, or someone who has been exposed to a virus carrier, or else they do not qualify for testing, according to the same source.
“Some places require proof of insurance even when testing is free,” said the source. Although many free testing centers request proof of health insurance strictly for documentation and follow-up purposes, the source stressed that the request poses a barrier to Moroccans who are in the US on tourist visas and may not have acceptable insurance plans.
Should a prospective traveler to Morocco manage to secure a PCR test, the majority of testing centers cannot guarantee results within the time frame required by the Moroccan government due to high demand and backlogged labs.
Obtaining serological tests is even more complicated, as this sometimes requires a referral from a physician to a lab for testing. The lab tests can be costly and results are usually not available for several days. Test results are often first sent to the primary care physician, who will then call the patient and require them to collect the results.
Flights from the US to Morocco are only operating out of New York City, meaning that travelers who are not on the East Coast or cannot afford to fly to the Big Apple will face further setbacks when attempting to respect the 48-hour testing window.
“Housing arrangements are expiring. People [are] running out of funds, this is our last hope to return home and this 48-hour requirement and serological testing [are] making it impossible. We have been indoors isolating for months now to stay safe, going out looking for places to test is actually increasing our chance of getting contaminated in that very process,” the source shared.
An emotional rollercoaster
In multiple statements following the initial July 8 announcement of the exceptional border reopening operation, Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs vowed to coordinate with local authorities in countries where the necessary COVID-19 tests are not readily available, particularly in developing countries.
Several Moroccan diplomatic representations, such as the embassy in Portugal and the consulate in Saudi Arabia, have announced initiatives to collaborate with local laboratories to expedite PCR and serological tests for prospective travelers to Morocco.
However, in a country as vast and varied as the US, Morocco’s only two diplomatic representations — the embassy in Washington, D.C. and the consulate in New York City — appear to be struggling to respond to the new wave of requests for support.
“[The embassy’s] response initially was to hang still and they will inform us if they know more,” the Moroccan source in the US told MWN, adding that they did not have any luck contacting Moroccan ministries for assistance. “Royal Air Maroc also ceased picking up their phone two days [ago].”
They said that even if the US State Department grants them special approval to get tested, their results may not be available in time. “All this has to be set up only 48 hours before my flight, which is at 11 p.m. So it can only be done the day before my flight since centers won’t open at 11 p.m. two days prior, when the 48-hour countdown begins. Cutting it too short is stressful and not guaranteed.”
Similar to Americans who have expressed their frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, Moroccan citizens and residents in the US are feeling the consequences of the president’s lax COVID-19 response.
“Just when we were happy about the reopening news, the unrealistic testing caveat came like a shock. A true emotional roller coaster.”