Morocco faces down COVID-19 spread with tough rules

Morocco’s King Mohamed VI said last month that another full lockdown may be recommended, with even tighter restrictions, if high coronavirus cases persisted. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 27 September 2020

Morocco faces down COVID-19 spread with tough rules

  • Kingdom on the Atlantic coast has registered more than 110,000 positive cases since March
  • Morocco first decreed lockdown measures on March 20, but has been gradually easing restrictions

RABAT: With air and sea borders closed for months and eight cities barring people from entering or leaving, Morocco has been pulling out the stops to stanch the spread of coronavirus.
Still, the kingdom on the Atlantic coast, a magnet for tourists in better times, has registered more than 110,000 positive cases since March and has a death toll of 2,041 — the highest among its North African neighbors.
Morocco first decreed lockdown measures on March 20, but has been gradually easing restrictions. A recent upsurge in infections, however, has forced targeted measures.
Marrakech, a major tourist destination, is at a standstill, while police checks are part of the scenery in hard-hit Casablanca, the country’s economic powerhouse. Police are out in the markets, streets, drug-dealers’ haunts and closed-off beaches, with military vehicles occasionally rolling by. They are a no-nonsense signal for citizens to respect the country’s strict orders to contain the virus.
In the northern city of Tangiers, military vehicles were deployed last month to help enforce measures there. Movement between the city and others was stopped, as it was in Casablanca, barring exceptional authorizations.
In Casablanca, tough measures to keep people from leaving town are in place. Police at blockades focus on taxis, buses, freight trucks and private ambulances, vehicles known to be used by those trying to sneak out of town, said Karim El-Idrani, commander of the Al-Fida police district.
In Rabat, the political capital and site of the main palace of King Mohamed VI, police are posted at entrances and exits — although the city is not closed. Still, occupants of vehicles venturing into town are asked to show proof of residency, or provide authorization if traveling in from elsewhere, especially closed-off cities, or risk fines.
The director of epidemiology at the Health Ministry, Mohamed Lyoubi, conceded during a webinar that he expects the situation to worsen over winter as the flu season overlaps with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many hospitals and test sites for the coronavirus are expected to reach capacity,” Lyoubi said. “The situation will also affect the ability of health authorities to carry out case investigations and ensure contact follow-up and monitoring of patients treated at home.”
Morocco’s testing program is increasingly overwhelmed. Long lines for testing are now common outside hospitals and laboratories in Moroccan cities.
With a rise in cases, hospitals have been struggling to keep up with the growing influx of patients, and some intensive care units are reaching full capacity. Last month, health workers staged a protest outside Ibn Zohr Hospital in Marrakech to demand better working conditions. Photos showing COVID-19 patients lining the corridors of the overcrowded hospital, with some lying on the floor, caused an uproar on social media.
Medical professionals held similar protests elsewhere, claiming that some health facilities are understaffed and lack protective equipment for workers. The Health Ministry has sought to remedy the situation by setting up field hospitals.
The rise in cases has come as a blow to Morocco, which had been phasing out lockdown measures. On July 19, it began a third phase of gradually lifting its lockdown and foreign business visitors were allowed to enter the kingdom starting Sept. 10.
But Casablanca doubled down after its infection rate began climbing. The city hosts 42 percent of the daily reported cases, 40 percent of the serious cases and 38 percent of the deaths recorded at the national level, according to Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb. To counter the surge, schools were forced to close again, with the adoption of remote education. Markets, cafes, shops and restaurants were ordered to close early. The city enacted a curfew between the hours of 10p.m. and 5a.m. Police set up roadblocks and patrols to enforce compliance.
The Moroccan monarch said last month that “if figures continue to increase, the COVID-19 Scientific Committee may recommend another (full) lockdown, perhaps with even tighter restrictions.”


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.