Morocco prepares vaccine campaign, counters online skepticism

Morocco prepares vaccine campaign, counters online skepticism
Morocco hopes to launch an ambitious vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus by year-end, but its efforts have sparked suspicion and rumors in the country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2020

Morocco prepares vaccine campaign, counters online skepticism

Morocco prepares vaccine campaign, counters online skepticism
  • Morocco is hoping to immunize 20 million adults against the Covid-19 illness within three months
  • It will use vaccinations from China’s Sinopharm and a UK-sourced shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University

RABAT: Morocco hopes to launch an ambitious vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus by year-end, but its efforts have sparked suspicion and rumors in the country, hard-hit by the pandemic.
The North African kingdom is hoping to immunize 20 million adults against the Covid-19 illness within three months, using vaccinations from China’s Sinopharm and a UK-sourced shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb told AFP that each country was free to “decree emergency use” of the vaccine of its choice.
Britain on Wednesday became the first country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for general use, while the AstraZeneca/Oxford University shot is expected to come onstream soon.
The launch date for the campaign in Morocco “will depend on when the vaccines are certified for use but also on the delivery schedule,” Ait Taleb added.
But even before the campaign began, rumors pushed by skeptics have flooded social media, including a fake “draft law” stating that vaccination would be mandatory in Morocco, forcing the health ministry to issue a denial last month.
And this week, a photo of a young man being hauled away by six police officers, with the caption “official: vaccination campaign launched in Morocco,” was denounced as “fake news” by the Twitter account of the DGSN security service.
Morocco in August signed a deal to take part in clinical tests of a vaccine developed by Chinese company Sinopharm, which has agreed to provide the kingdom with 10 million doses before the end of the year if results are successful.
Even as they await preliminary results of phase three tests, the Moroccan authorities are preparing a “viral retaliation,” Ait Taleb said.
The novel coronavirus has battered Morocco, where daily detected cases are running at above 5,000 per day and recorded deaths from the virus have topped 5,900, in a country of 37 million.
The death rate has been relatively low at around 1.7 percent of recorded cases.
But in the port city of Casablanca, the beating heart of the Moroccan economy, under-staffed hospitals are close to bursting.
Hard-stretched medical staff, on the front lines of the pandemic since March, are showing signs of exhaustion.
But the government is hoping that by mobilizing 12,750 medics from the public and private sectors, military doctors and the Moroccan Red Crescent, it will be able to hit its target for vaccinations.
The first jabs will be reserved for “front line” staff in the health and security services as well as people in vital sectors such as transportation, and at-risk groups including over-65s and those with chronic conditions, the health minister said.
But as the government steps up preparations for the campaign, public sentiment is divided between hope and anxiety.
On social media, “everyone has their own information,” said news website Hesspress.
The rumors began to swirl as soon as the November 9 announcement that King Mohammed VI had given the go-ahead for a “mass immunization operation,” without specifying the timeline or type of vaccine.
Criticisms voiced online have ranged from doubts over the effectiveness of the vaccines to the fear of being “guinea-pigs” — or that the jab could modify the receiver’s DNA.
Traditional media have been hosting experts every day to counter the wave of skepticism and refute what news website Media24 called “eccentric, fanciful criticisms.”
But the Economiste newspaper said news of the vaccine has blown “a gust of optimism” into an economy plunged into recession by the pandemic as well as a punishing drought that has hit the agriculture sector.
In late September, Morocco’s central bank downgraded its already dire forecasts, predicting GDP would shrink by some 6.3 percent in 2020 and forecasting “a slower recovery than expected.”
But for some in the vital tourism sector, facing disaster since the country closed its borders in mid-March, the vaccine finally brings hope of a relaunch.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
Updated 23 January 2021

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.