XOTV WEEKLY: Tiny but Mighty, Morocco Battles COVID-19

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Everything XOTV

Photo by Mohammed Rhioui. Meknés, Morocco.
Entering its sixth month of the fight against COVID-19, Morocco, a small country in northwest Africa, has been enormously impacted by what is now the longest border closure in decades of its history. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the virus a pandemic, with cases confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus tests and quarantining measures were implemented, in addition to border closures and extensive travel suspensions. Morocco was one of the first nations to shut down borders and implement the WHO guidance to fight against the spread of the virus.
 
This unprecedented pandemic largely changed the customs, traditions, and even religious practices of most Moroccans. Most people in Morocco are highly affectionate by nature and used to show love with two kisses on the cheeks and a warm hug, even strangers are unable to escape this sacred rule. But things have changed. During the first three months of the quarantine lockdown, you could notice how people kept their distances and tried to avoid any physical contact. Moreover, the government banned wedding celebrations, funeral gatherings, burials, and group assemblies, which led Moroccans to have dubious and unsure feelings about the social sacrifices that they can endure to fight against this widespread crisis. 
 
The situation was exacerbated by the shutdown of religious facilities, mainly mosques, which lead to a few demonstrations in the north of Morocco and other regions protesting the mosques’ closures. That feeling grew during the holy month of Ramadan, during which one of the practices is to pray “Tarawih,” a prayer that usually takes place after breaking the Ramadan fast and is for many in the Muslim world a pillar of the religious practices during the holy month. But the lockdown stole the joy of family gatherings at home and the gathering of followers of Islam at mosques. The lack of these practices changed how people usually feel during Ramadan and they almost perceived it as though it were any other month they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, people tried to cope with this cultural upheaval by keeping the usual Ramadan meals and dishes on breakfast tables, alongside turning to social media as a means to keep in touch with family and friends. 
 
Moroccan economic growth was also severely affected, mainly due to the tourism sector crunch after the border lockdown. Morocco relies tremendously on the tourism industry, as it contributes more than 8% to the country’s overall GDP and employs more than 2.5 million people, thus accounting for almost 25% of the total Moroccan workforce. This has put thousands of people's jobs and businesses in jeopardy, including mine.
 
It was a long-awaited dream for me to start a small camping and hiking travel agency with some close friends of mine. I discovered this passion at a very early age when I traveled around the Atlas mountains, the home of Amazigh tribes, and to the Moroccan Sahara, the open fields of the Saharan nomads. I have discovered uncharted rural areas, places from north to south, and from east to west. This made me realize that Morocco has plenty of stunning and wonderful sites, far from the clichéd big cities that lost their authenticity and became modernized to match tourists’ luxurious exigencies; places where you can encounter and interact with locals and their unexplored culture. So I intended to bring a learning experience to travelers and backpackers around the world who seek a simple, yet genuine, adventure in Morocco. We were going to call it Simple Life Seekers.  
 
However, the pandemic has put this dream and the jobs of thousands on hold, despite Morocco’s strategies of easing restrictive traveling measures and partially reopening borders for citizens and foreign nationals who are residents. Thus, those working in the tourism sector have now dedicated their services to domestic tourism to try to improve their situations during the summer season that used to be the busiest in recent years.
 
As for Simple Life Seekers, we are still working on the concept and mapping out large areas for our future treks. We are trying to set up our social media platforms and develop the business website but ultimately we are still in the midst of an unsure environment that could lead to its demise before its actual start.
 
Morocco’s industrial sector has placed its focus on manufacturing medical gear like disposable masks, oxygen therapy devices, and thermometers to reach a daily production capacity of 10 million masks. They have started exporting the surplus after securing the necessary stockpile for self-sufficiency, thus becoming the second largest exporter of disposable masks in the world, after China. Nonetheless, this global crisis led to the bankruptcy of a large number of businesses, startups, and small traditional workshops that rely on tourism to sell their services and products. The future is unclear to many, despite efforts to readjust to the pandemic. Yet with all these measures, 2020 remains a strenuous challenge that Morocco must overcome.

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About the Author:

Oussama Baabid, photo by Mohammed Rhioui.


Oussama Baabid is the founder of Simple Life Seekers, graduated from University Moulay Ismail Business School of Meknes with a bachelor’s in business management. He is a Moroccan social activist who devoted his efforts to environmental protection and educational development. He co-founded We Paint Meknes in Colors and is a co-founder of GoEng educational and cultural club. Obsessed with nature and adventure, he considers a hike an offer that he can’t refuse.

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amazing article, it s true and evident that Morocco took a hard blow due to the pandemic but it s good to see genuine social activists persevering and not giving up. Looking forward to your next piece.

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