Rabat (Morocco) during the COVID-19 health emergency situation. Photo: courtesy of Jesús Churrete.
"An unarmed and heroic army in white coats, silent and overwhelmed, is the only thing that will win this war"
David Fernàndez, journalist and social activist
I am writing these lines from the sofa in my home in the centre of Rabat, the Moroccan capital, where I have been living for nearly three years and where I am now having this experience called confinement. Don’t get the idea that being locked down on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar is a better or more exotic experience. It still is what it is: confinement.
When I look out my window, I can see a few cars. Even with the proper authorisation displayed in the windshield, they are stopped by police, who monitor our movements 24 hours a day. Without an authorisation certificate, we cannot even go out to buy food or medicine—the only thing this precious document authorises us to do.
When I look out my window, I can see a few cars. Even with the proper authorisation displayed in the windshield, they are stopped by police, who monitor our movements 24 hours a day
I also see people with heavy shopping bags, scurrying along to get home before the 6 pm curfew, after which no one is allowed outside for any reason.
But most of all, I follow the Herculean efforts of the Department of Epidemiology and Disease Control (DELM), one of ISGlobal’s key partners in Morocco, which is leading the country’s response to this crisis. I listen to their daily briefings, where they report the number of new confirmed cases as well as other key information, such as the new field hospitals constructed in different parts of the country, local production of masks, and efforts by a group of Moroccan engineers to manufacture ventilators.
Morocco reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 2 March—only just over a month ago, although under lockdown it feels like several years. Starting on that day, steps were taken at lightning speed. As of today (15 April), and according to Ministry of Health, the test has been carried out on 8,404 people, there are 1,988 confirmed cases, 127 deaths and 218 recovered—not a very high count compared with the astronomical figures we are seeing in other countries.
Morocco reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 2 March —only just over a month ago, although under lockdown it feels like several years. Starting on that day, steps were taken at lightning speed
Daily evolution of COVID-19 confirmed cases. Source: Moroccan Ministry of Health.
Just as my lockdown is not so different from yours, the containment measures in Morocco are not very different from those implemented in other countries. But the response here has differed in one key respect: the authorities skipped the phase of doubts and uncertainties and took action very early.
Does the low number of confirmed cases—well under 1% of the population—have anything to do with this?
To put things in perspective, here are some of the most important measures implemented so far:
On 13 March, Morocco announced the temporary closure of all sea and air links with Spain. A few days later, the land borders with Ceuta and Melilla were closed. Flights to other European destinations were gradually cancelled, until Moroccan airspace was closed altogether.
As those initial measures were being announced, some of us made the early decision to self-isolate.
The declaration of a state of medical emergency—similar to Spain’s state of alarm—came on 20 March, and with it, one of Morocco’s most important measures: compulsory confinement starting at 6 pm the same day. By then, none of my neighbourhood pharmacies had any stocks of masks—which are now required for anyone venturing outdoors—and sales of paracetamol were limited to one box per customer.
The declaration of a state of medical emergency—similar to Spain’s state of alarm—came on 20 March, and with it, one of Morocco’s most important measures: compulsory confinement starting at 6 pm the same day
The most ambitious thing I did in the following days was getting the authorisation certificate mentioned above. To do this, I had to go to the المقاطعة (moqataʿa) and get the signature of the المقدم (moqadem).
Authorisation certificate to go out during COVID-19 emergency.
The government has also adopted a number of social and economic measures to try to alleviate the dramatic consequences of this dystopian situation. Although Morocco is consolidating its position as a leader on the African continent, it is still a country where nearly nine million people live near or below the poverty line. Local associations, including our Moroccan civil society partners, are mobilising to support and protect, as far as is possible, the most vulnerable members of society.
The government has also adopted a number of social and economic measures to try to alleviate the dramatic consequences of this dystopian situation in a country where nearly nine million people live near or below the poverty
The days go by. My failed attempts to use this time to learn how to cook are now a distant memory. I barely remember my pilates teacher and I’ve grown accustomed to doing my darija classes via Skype. Like all of you, I try to remember what life used to be like, out there in the world beyond my terrace.
These days, my emotions are varied and intense.
The feeling of being locked in—and not just by the walls of my home—can be distressing at times, especially when mass hysteria makes doubt contagious. Are we safe here? Will the Moroccan healthcare system be able to respond to all this?
Then comes the eternal answer: Tot anirà bé (all will be well).
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