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Morocco, exemplary in the fight against Covid-19

Having learned the lessons of the pandemic that is ravaging Europe, Morocco is now positioning itself as one of the most innovative nations in the fight against Covid-19. Thus, on May 8 in Casablanca, a research foundation presented a 100% Moroccan-made intelligent artificial respirator that should be delivered to hospitals in the kingdom in the coming weeks.

This announcement follows several initiatives in the country, such as an intelligent mask for automatic remote detection of the Covid or the creation of a digital platform for sharing experiences on the pandemic in Moroccan Arabic.

It is therefore no coincidence that a few days ago the European Union welcomed Morocco’s efforts in managing the coronavirus crisis. It must be said that the figures speak for themselves: eighty days after the first case of Covid-19 appeared in the kingdom – a Moroccan returning from Italy – there were just over 7,000 contaminated subjects and less than 200 deaths. This is in stark contrast to the situation in neighbouring Spain, where nearly 280,000 cases have been detected and nearly 28,000 people have died…

34 times fewer cases than in Spain

Of course, we should not jump to conclusions. And in particular, we must take into account the time lag between the two countries in terms of contamination, since more than a month separates the first case detected in Spain (31 January) from the first Moroccan case (2 March) and the tenth Spanish death occurred nineteen days before the tenth Moroccan death. This interval makes it possible to calibrate the figures to make them immediately comparable. However, even using this powerful temporal correction, the 7,000 cases in Morocco correspond to 245,000 cases in neighbouring Europe. Thirty-four times less!

Some may object that comparison is not right. Starting with the fact that a developed country is infinitely more open than an emerging Maghreb nation. In fact, last year the international traffic of people travelling by air reached 22 million in Morocco compared with 190 million in Spain. But this openness has no bearing on the emergence and spread of the virus.

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One important difference makes the Moroccan population less vulnerable: the proportion of people over 65 years of age.
In Morocco, the first 15 recorded cases concern travellers from Spain, France and Italy. In Spain, the first cases also affect foreign tourists, mainly Italian, or people repatriated from Spain.

There is also the demographic argument. In terms of population, the difference is not very great (47 million against 35) and 100 Moroccan victims are only equivalent to 135 Spanish victims. On the other hand, one important difference makes the Spanish population more vulnerable: the proportion of people over 65 years of age (who are known to make up the vast majority of victims). There are only 2.5 million in Morocco but 8.5 million in Spain.

Immediate reactivity

Caution is therefore called for. All the more so as the scale of the epidemic is comparable among the Maghreb’s neighbours, even though Algeria has three times as many deaths. It is undeniable, however, that the Moroccan authorities have shown themselves to be particularly responsive, drawing on the tragic experience of European countries.

On 16 March, schools and universities were closed, even though the country had 37 cases of the virus and only one death. Spain had taken the same decision a week earlier, with more than 1 200 cases and 30 deaths! The same was true for the general containment, decreed on 14 March in Spain when nearly 6,500 people were already infected. In Morocco, the containment took place on 20 March with less than ninety people contaminated…

The Moroccan authorities’ concern not to be overwhelmed by the sick is understandable, given that the country has three times fewer intensive care beds than its northern neighbour. However, throughout this crisis, Morocco has done everything to cope: since 23 March, China has been delivering medical equipment to the Cherifian Kingdom, 350 respirators have been purchased, 750 additional intensive care beds have been opened and Moroccan factories will soon be producing 7 million sanitary masks a day. Since 7 April, the wearing of masks has been compulsory for all persons authorised to travel and national manufacturers have been supplying masks to local shops at controlled prices (8 euro cents each). Finally, the country is able to carry out 10,000 tests per day, in particular thanks to deliveries of testers from Korea. And the innovative initiatives mentioned above will help to increase reaction capacities.

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The concern not to be overwhelmed is also reflected in the extreme supervision of the country in health emergencies. After the street shouters urging people to stay home, the army tanks patrolling the streets to intimidate recalcitrant people, fines are raining down. And this has been going on for weeks as authorities have just extended the lockdown until June 10. Morocco will thus be the country in the world to have imposed the longest period of confinement: 82 days.

The extent of support measures

But what makes Morocco unique – if not exemplary – in the Maghreb and throughout Africa is the extent of the support measures put in place to limit the economic and social consequences of Covid-19. By decision of King Mohammed VI, whose determination in this matter was unanimously underlined, a special Covid-19 fund was set up in mid-March. Supplied by donations from all the country’s public institutions and major private companies, it has so far raised 33 billion dirhams or more than 3 billion euros. As the European Union has announced that it will top up the fund by an additional 450 million euros, the Moroccan support plan will thus represent more than 3% of GDP. This support is practically on the same scale as that implemented in Spain, and the level of which is without equivalent in emerging countries.

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As is the case in most European countries, these sums will be used to finance the suspension of social security charges on companies and to grant them additional bank credit lines guaranteed by the State. But Morocco goes further.

The huge informal sector is not forgotten, as the millions of small entrepreneurs receive a monthly subsistence allowance of at least 800 dirhams [76 euros].
On the one hand, the maturities of bank loans to individuals due until the end of June are postponed in the form of longer loan terms (which, it should be noted, is not the case in France). On the other hand and above all, all Moroccans affiliated to the social security system will receive, until the end of June, 2,000 dirhams per month [190 euros] equivalent to 75% of the minimum wage.

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Finally – and this is the great originality of the plan compared to what is done elsewhere in Africa – the huge informal sector is not forgotten since, by simple identification by SMS, the millions of small entrepreneurs affiliated or not affiliated to the medical assistance system receive a monthly subsistence aid of at least 800 dirhams [76 euros], the 280 million euros currently mobilized allowing to help 3.7 million people.

The next few weeks will show to what extent Morocco’s proactive approach to health care has made it possible to stem a recession which, as everywhere else, promises to be severe. But what already seems obvious is that the Cherifian kingdom, because of the scale of its support plan, has every chance of emerging from this totally unprecedented crisis in a social situation that is much less deteriorated than in its neighbours.

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