During this unprecedented global crisis, people across the western world have begun to question whether it was wise to elect people with a sociopathic indifference to human life mainly because they found their speeches amusing.
In the US, the President has been musing about the virtues of drinking and injecting bleach, while his heavily armed supporters are outside protesting for the right to be forced to work in unsafe conditions. Surprising no one, the White House’s response has been characterized by lies, denial, obfuscation, and the consistent blaming of others, including the Chinese government, democratic congresspeople, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Donald Trump was given dire warnings about the pandemic from January.
Donald Trump was given dire warnings about the pandemic from January. One memo, dated February 23, read: “There is an increasing probability of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.” Despite this, Trump continued to give false assurances and brag about the TV ratings of his Covid-19 press-conferences, squandering valuable time.
The UK, which is also run by the populist right, followed suit, ignoring the much maligned “experts” and opting for a strategy termed “herd immunity.” Being an island, the UK should have an advantage, compared to its neighbors, in dealing with a global pandemic. However, through sheer hard work and determination, the UK has fared worse than any other European country, with a death toll over ten times that of significantly more populated Germany.
The UK has fared worse than any other European country, with a death toll over ten times that of more populated Germany.
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, cheerily announced on breakfast TV that his plan was “to let the disease move through the population.” The Brits would be able to cope with this, he explained, owing to the “Blitz spirit” that has been hardwired into the national genome ever since the population defeated Hitler by hiding in sheds and eating canned corn.
Johnson later boasted that he visited hospitals in which Covid-19 patients were being treated and “shook hands with everybody.” Shortly thereafter, Johnson was hospitalized with the disease and, at one stage, was in such a critical condition that doctors made preparations to announce his death.
In both countries, a sizable chunk of the population seems to think that averting millions of deaths is all well and good, but overall less important than being able to get a new haircut, a glass of sherry, or a new tattoo – an opinion presumably shared by the virus itself.
The US and the UK now top the world death-toll table with 91,000 and 35,000 deaths, respectively, as of May 18.
For some reason, the US and the UK now top the world death-toll table with 91,000 and 35,000 deaths, respectively, as of May 18. The UK, with over 10 percent of all Covid-19 deaths worldwide, claimed second spot this week, with the US unable to even provide accurate data to the WHO.
Hundreds of British health workers have died from Covid-19, largely down to a chronic lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), a fact that Britain’s hapless leaders have taken elaborate measures to cover up. The BBC recently revealed that the government has been listing items like paper towels and plastic bags as PPE. Amazingly, the government also nearly doubled the figures on total PPE items stocked by counting individual protective gloves, rather than the pairs.
Meanwhile, the British media is doing its best to downplay the 35,000 deaths, occasionally reminding us that the death-toll is significantly higher if you count those in care homes as people. At this stage, the British public can take solace in little more than the fact that their leader is yet to recommend that they start injecting household cleaning products.
After years of a bitter migrants crisis, now it is the Europeans who are forbidden to cross the Mediterranean.
The Americans, Brits, Spanish, and Italians shouldn’t get too down on themselves though. Given their meagre resources, they cannot be expected to keep up with an economic colossus like, say, Tunisia. After years of a bitter migrants crisis, now it is the Europeans who are forbidden to cross the Mediterranean, lest they infect the inhabitants of countries whose governments have taken this crisis somewhat seriously.
Nowhere is this contrast starker than in Morocco. There is no question that countries like Morocco should be at a greater risk from the coronavirus than western countries. Many major urban areas, such as the large coastal city of Salé, are ideal breeding grounds for the virus, as people often live in cramped and crowded conditions, without easy access to medicine and running water. Furthermore, Morocco’s healthcare system ought to be no match for those of more developed countries and a much smaller percentage of the population is able to work from home.
Other than their obvious material advantages, western governments also typically command a much higher level of public confidence than those of developing countries. Such trust is crucial when imposing drastic lifestyle changes upon a population to slow the spread of a pandemic. However, despite all this, it is the world’s richest nation that is failing most dramatically to meet the needs of the crisis.
It is the world’s richest nation that is failing most dramatically to meet the needs of the crisis.
The 2019 Arab Barometer Study found that the level of public trust and support for Moroccan political institutions (such as the parliament and the Council of Ministers) is extremely low. However, that level of trust has increased as a result of the Moroccan government’s reaction to the pandemic, according to a study carried out by the country’s Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA).
It was the speed of Morocco’s response that impressed most. King Mohammed VI met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and top security officials on March 17, which was followed by the declaration of a national state of emergency on March 20. Aggressive measures were quickly implemented: Travel in and out of the country was cancelled, leading to several European governments negotiating emergency flights for their citizens working or holidaying in Morocco. Almost everything except food markets, hospitals, and pharmacies were closed and, by April 2, around 5,000 people had been arrested for violating social distancing measures. Meanwhile, in the UK, planes continued to land without passengers being tested upon arrival.
The Tunisian government also acted early, imposing a lockdown on March 22, and subsequently extending it several times. This may be part of the reason why, today, the country has only around 1,037 cases and 45 deaths. This is not necessarily to say that governments across the MENA region have dealt with the conflict well. Many have been found wanting and protests have not been uncommon. But it is remarkable that countries of ill means have made the necessary economic sacrifices, while leaders in rich states, that ought to be able to take the hit, have refused to do so.
Jordan’s Epidemics Committee convened in January to devise a response, when there were no known cases outside of China.
The top student in the class may well be Jordan, where the government has begun to relax its lockdown measures in many areas as infections have ebbed away. Experts are more or less in agreement that despite the country’s large refugee population, Jordan’s success is a result of the Kingdom’s early adoption of strict lockdown measures. The country’s Epidemics Committee convened in January to devise a response, at a time when there were no known cases outside of China. The strategy they came up with was finished some five weeks before the country recorded its first case on March 2.
While Trump and Johnson were playing down the virus, the Moroccan state created an emergency fund of 32.7 billion Dirhams ($3.2 billion USD) to support vulnerable citizens, although many have criticized the move, arguing that the sum is insufficient and that the money has not been distributed effectively. Even groups that oppose the Moroccan government, such as the Rif Activists and Adl Wal Ihssan have called for national unity in the face of the pandemic and voiced support for the government’s policies. Compare this to the armed Trump-supporters in the US, demanding the chance to reenter infected work-places.
While Trump and Johnson were playing down the virus, Morocco created an emergency fund of $3.2 billion USD to support citizens.
In response to protests in March, Tunisian President Elyes Fakhfakh announced that 450 million dinars ($155 million USD) would be provided in financial assistance to poor families or those who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Around a third of that money has been locked in for the most vulnerable families, who often rely on informal employment.
In Jordan, King Abdullah was quick to evoke the National Defense Law, placing the country under emergency military rule, with the armed forces deployed to enforce a nationwide curfew. Admittedly, when organizing a swift pandemic response, the ability to install Martial Law overnight is a good option to have in the back pocket. Having said that, many European countries took similar measures with much less success. Throughout March, the Jordanian government closed schools, universities, mosques, governments offices, shops, restaurants, resorts, and other public places. The country’s borders were closed and repatriated Jordanians were quarantined for a period of 14 days at hotels near the Dead Sea and in the capital, Amman. Jordan has a total of 613 cases and 9 deaths.
Jordan has a total of 613 cases and 9 deaths.
Morocco is on curfew every day before 6pm, with only one person per household permitted to leave home before that. Every person in a public place must wear a mask and key workers in supermarkets and other essential shops have a regular change of masks and gloves. ATMs, the doors of public buildings, and even shopping carts are regularly sprayed with disinfectant and state officials take the temperature of those entering supermarkets, banks, and other places of essential visit. To date, Morocco has 192 recorded deaths, compared with almost 35,000 in the UK and over 91,000 in the US. And not a bleach injection in sight.
Bucking the Trend: Morocco’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Impact of the Coronavirus on the Middle East and North Africa