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The expert started analysing the pandemic situation in Morocco with the current statistics: as of June 18, Morocco had 9042 cases, 7960 recovered, 213 deaths and 830 active cases, meaning all the people being currently treated in hospitals. Morocco is among the countries with the lowest death rate due to strict governmental regulations and special Protocol by the Ministry of Health ministry that allowed keeping the spreading of infection under control and let people return to work.
The success of Morocco lies in its multidimensional response: at the early stages of the epidemic, King Mohammed VI gathered with the Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani, Minister of Interior Affairs, Minister of Health, and some security officers to develop the strategical response to pandemic and preparations for the worst scenarios possible. The Ministry of Health managed to mobilize all its sources in a very short period of time, 2 billion dirhams was spent to buy new medical equipment, two military hospitals were built with the largest in whole Africa hospital in Casablanca, which was set in 2 weeks. The Ministry of Health not only arranged testing for the citizens but the transportation to testing points as well.
Hamid Ait El Caid also mentioned the high level of communication; the government started a campaign and used social media to inform people about the precautions and the threats of the pandemic. Moreover, an app called “Our protection” was launched, which is driven by the voluntary work of people and allows tracking users with COVID-19. This app gained attention not only in Morocco but also in European and the Middle East countries. The volunteers were also working in the streets informing people about the necessity to stay at home and working together with the mass media.
The expert covered the legal dimension of the pandemic as well. On March 19, the government declared the state of emergency, which was prolonged till June. Simultaneously, all the public places like schools, mosques and cafes were closed, as well as borders. The government imposed severe punishment to make people stay at home, those violating self-isolation could be sentenced to 1-3 months in jail and the fine of 30-130 Euro. Those, who violated the rules or was spreading fake news about coronavirus, were prosecuted at online court trials, what became a new step in digitalization.
At the beginning of the lockdown, face masks were not compulsory until the number of cases rose dramatically. The expert marked that the government, however, was not well-prepared for the crisis: the imposing of some decisions were not planned in advance, what, in the case of face mask, in particular, created public frustration and shortage, though later the textile industry adapted to the new needs of the market.
The expert noted that despite Morocco has a modest number of new cases, it is too early to lift the restrictions. The measures should be eased gradually and take into account the geographical factor: to lift the restrictions firstly in the regions, where there were no new cases for a long period of time and with the differentiation of people according to their age and the state of health. However, there should be certain flexibility: the authority should be ready to mobilize the forces again in case a second wave may occur.
Hamid Ait El Caid descried also socioeconomic dimension of Morocco’s response. Because of the state of emergency, people could not go to work, so the monetary measures of the Central Bank were introduced, the government used $3 billion US borrowed from IMF for 5 years and recently the same amount of money was requested from World Bank.
The King himself established a special emergency fund of 10 billion dirhams ($1 billion US) that made a contribution to the health infrastructure and supported the worst affected economic sectors, small business and entrepreneurs.
To control the allocation of the government money the Watch committee was established that was monitoring the implementation of compensation. The compensation scheme was available at the online platform, where everyone could request the money according to two categories: the first was for those with the social insurance and provided 2 thousand dirhams; and the second for the citizens with the medical assistance plan that were eligible for 1 hundred dirhams. Moreover, the government suspended all social taxes and postponed bank payments and credits.
Concerning the education on March 13, all schools and universities were closed with the further transition to online education. The state provided a free e-learning platform for pupils and students; public channels and radio were broadcasting the lessons for all educational levels. Some volunteer teachers were also recording the classes on YouTube. However, students in the rural area that had no Internet access could not use the opportunity to study online and thus were excluded from the educational system. For such students the government distributed books in three main subjects, French, Arabic and Math for self-study and cancelled all regional exams, allowing students passing only the governmental graduation exam. But not only students in rural areas faced difficulties, but some students from private schools also had problems with regular monthly payments, on which the schools insisted even in the pandemic. The situation became vulnerable and made the Ministry of Education call for negotiation.
Understanding the new challenges, the government started to sponsor medical studies and research programmes in different spheres such as medical, technical, social, political, etc.
The expert estimated highly the work of civil society and volunteers. When in the peaceful times the relations between civil society and the government were not good, in the times of crisis they both managed to cooperate and work for the same aim since the very early days. In addition to previously mentioned work in the streets, common people were providing assistance and accommodation for their neighbours, friends and tourists that could not return to their homelands. Some people were sharing their Internet with the students to keep them learning.
Besides good performance in the response to the pandemic, Morocco faced a number of challenges that would have drastic consequences on education, economy. The main is the socioeconomic challenges while the lockdown had a devastating effect on the economy: million people became unemployed and hundreds of businesses were bankrupt. Morocco relies heavily on the economic ties with the EU: the country exports agriculture and textile to the EU and gets most of its direct foreign investments from European countries. The most affected by COVID-19 was the tourism industry: in the first four months of 2020 it decreased by 45% compared with the previous year, the hotel booking decreased by 43% and 95 hotels were closed in May-June.
The system on online education received the critique from experts and parents, while low-income students from rural and semi-rural areas could not afford even the learning tools such as laptops to study. This created a huge inequality among the students.
The expert expects that in the future the government would change and most of the spending would be allocated to the health and education, especially in the less developed areas, instead of such “fragile” sectors as tourism.
Hamid Ait El Caid concluded that while Morocco lies in the crossroad of Africa and Europe, it was vitally important to respond properly and in time. The exceptional measures of the government were sufficient to prevent the worst scenario and people were generally satisfied with those measures, as well as the communication strategies, chosen to inform people. However, the challenges are dramatic and not fast to overcome, so the expert expects to see the new Morocco after the pandemic.Video is available to the link: https://youtu.be/dZ2xcFM3MoU