Can Morocco Effectively Handle the COVID-19 Crisis?

In Morocco, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased public trust in government, but people still have doubts about the effectiveness of the healthcare system. According to a recent study conducted by the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA), the majority of Moroccans surveyed are generally satisfied with the measures taken by the government to battle the coronavirus. However, the same survey also shows that Moroccans do not have confidence in the healthcare sector’s ability to respond to this pandemic.

Government response

The positive perceptions of the government’s response can be explained by the swift and strict measures enacted. King Mohammed VI held a high-level meeting with the prime minister, the minister of health, and top security officials on 17 March and a few days later, on 20 March, the Moroccan government declared a state of health emergency and began to implement aggressive measures to contain the virus. This has included closing airports, schools, mosques, cafés and shops – with the exception of food markets – preventing large gatherings, as well as strict guidelines to ensure social distancing. As of 2 April, nearly 5000 people have been arrested for violating the state of health emergency.

In order to address urgent medical needs and to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, the King ordered the creation of an emergency fund, raising more than 32.7 billion Moroccan Dirhams ($3.2 billion). The Ministry of Finance will begin to make cash transfers to vulnerable citizens, and especially those who have lost their jobs. However, the stipulations surrounding these cash transfers will be decided in the coming weeks.

Updates about the virus are communicated daily by the Ministry of Health, despite growing criticism of its communication strategy. As of 4 April, Moroccan authorities have confirmed 883 cases and 58 deaths.

Call for national unity

In times like these, there is a call for unity in the face of a national and global crisis, and opposition groups such as Adl wal Ihssan and Rif activists have expressed their support for government measures and have encouraged people to follow the new guidelines and restrictions. However, despite calls to release political prisoners, Moroccan authorities have not indicated that they will do so. This is a missed opportunity vis-à-vis the opposition because it could have served as a way to further strengthen national unity during the crisis.

These are all promising signs and point to what is likely to be a short-term burst in unity and institutional trust. However, the institutional weaknesses in governance and the healthcare system have not disappeared, which is why this increase in institutional trust should be taken with a grain of salt.

Public trust issues

This pandemic poses tremendous challenges for governments across the globe, and this holds especially true for states in the Middle East and North Africa region, where citizens do not approve of government performance and do not trust key state institutions. The 2019 Arab Barometer survey(opens in new window) found that Moroccans do not trust most of the country’s political institutions (notably the parliament and the Council of Ministers) and the level of satisfaction with the government’s performance remains extremely low.

On the public health front, as shown in two of MIPA’s recent surveys, trust in the healthcare system is also very low. Around three-quarters of those surveyed do not trust Moroccan hospitals, highlighting the acute structural problems in the healthcare system. In fact, there is a stark divide between private and public healthcare, as well as a huge gap in access to healthcare facilities between urban and rural areas. Most of the country’s hospitals and doctors are located in major urban areas and the only three laboratories with capabilities for COVID-19 testing are located in Rabat and Casablanca, but even there, testing capacity is very limited.

Similar to other countries, there could be a major shortage of doctors and medical equipment throughout Morocco. So far, the Ministry of Finance has said that 2 billion dirhams of the emergency fund will go towards purchasing medical equipment such as beds, ventilators, tests, prevention kits and radiology equipment, but the timeline remains unclear….

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