Morocco’s shutdown of major cities causes traffic mayhem

Moroccan authorities decide to stop people entering and leaving some of its biggest cities from midnight to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases

RABAT – Morocco’s last-minute decision to stop people entering and leaving some of its biggest cities from midnight to contain a surge in novel coronavirus cases has caused an unprecedented traffic chaos only five days before Eid al-Adha.

The cities to be locked down include Casablanca, Tangier, Tetouan, Marrakech, Fez and Meknes, Berrechid and Settat, the interior and health Ministries said on Sunday.

Thousands of people rushed to get to their destinations, prompting huge traffic jams at motorway toll gates while ticket prices of coaches and taxis hit the roof as people rushed to join their families for Eid festivities.

“I was asked to pay 500 dirhams ($53) by an illegal transporter to take me from Casablanca to Qelaat Sraghrna, a trip which usually costs me 100 dirhams ($10.63),” Mohammad, who works at a local grocery shop in central Casablanca, told Middle East Online.

“I don’t have a choice but to stay in Casablanca because I can’t afford to travel,” said Mohammad, who earns less than the minimum wage.

Morocco is struggling to curb a spike in COVID-19 cases one month after it eased a three-month nationwide lockdown.

The country’s borders remain closed except for international flights by national airlines carrying stranded Moroccans or foreign residents besides Moroccan expatriates.

On Sunday, the health ministry announced 633 new COVID-19 cases, the second biggest daily rise after Saturday’s record 811 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 20,278, with 313 deaths and 16,438 recoveries.

“We are welcoming Eid al-Adha next week which is an opportunity for families to come together around one table. This occasion comes this year in a particular and difficult situation, which requires to acquire maturity and responsibility to avoid unnecessary visits and physical contact and to ensure compliance with preventive measures during family gatherings,” health minister Khalid Ait Taleb said on Saturday.

Morocco has so far carried out 1.1 million tests, the second highest number of tests after South Africa in the African continent, according to the health ministry.

Wearing masks is mandatory, but people are not compliant with sanitary rules, which prompted authorities to issue a strong warning and impose hefty fines.

The North African kingdom extended a public health state of emergency decree until August 10, giving authorities leeway in restoring restrictive measures on a region-by-region basis depending on developments in the epidemic.

The Moroccan government expects a budget deficit of 7.5% of gross domestic product this year, and the economy to shrink by 5%.