It was around midnight in Rabat in December 2020. The neighbourhoods are empty; time seems suspended in the kingdom’s capital. The only people seen are the occasional police patrol officer or street sweeper.
An ambulance siren pierces the air of a city deep in sleep. Inside the vehicle, emergency medics clad in hazmat suits administer oxygen to a man in respiratory distress as it races towards the hospital.
"I thought I was going to die and leave my family and children on their own. I was stressed; I was afraid," said Jamal Eddine Bararh, a gynaecologist, a few days after his recovery from COVID-19. "With one of my lungs distressed, I just couldn't breathe or stand up."
Such scenes have become part of everyday life since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. To stem the virus's spread and save lives, authorities have had to adopt strict measures such as lockdowns and border closures, impacting economies hard.
Morocco has implemented a robust healthcare response. "We have expanded support all over the country and equipped hospitals in time, in order to have the tools to respond to the pandemic," explained Abdelouahab Belmadani, director of planning and financial resources at the Ministry of Health.
The African Development Bank has provided Morocco with more than €380 million through the COVID-19 Response Support Programme (PARC-19) and Additional Funding for the Social Protection Support Programme (PAAPS-FA COVID-19). The funds were used to strengthen the health system: 54 hospital emergency service departments refurbished; approximately 670 new intensive-care beds installed and more than 30 new screening centers put into operation. Pharmaceutical provisions specific to the virus have also been funded.
These efforts have helped to contain the pandemic. "The recovery rate in Morocco, currently running at 90%, is among the highest in the world," said Belmadani. "Intensive care capacity was tripled in nine months. The African Development Bank has been at our side from the beginning of the pandemic, placing a significant sum at our disposal to help us act quickly and effectively."
Morocco also rapidly expanded its testing capacity with the acquisition of more than 200,000 test kits thanks to the Bank's support.
"The capacity of our laboratory sharply increased from 2,000 tests per year to 5,000 tests per day. This is a national achievement!" said Professor Hicham Oumzil, head of the virology department of the National Institute of Hygiene (INH).
Economic and social challenges
The lockdown has triggered unprecedented economic and social problems, taking many businesses to the brink of collapse. To support the private sector and maintain jobs, the Bank has contributed to state financial support for vulnerable employees and supported provisions facilitating business access to finance. More than five million households and 800,000 employees have received help, and 40,000 businesses have benefited from state-guaranteed loans.
"This crisis is like nothing we've ever seen before...orders canceled, suppliers making demands, and then, total uncertainty, said Youssef Mquirej, managing director of events company Imagia Maroc. "I had to fight to protect my ten employees and my company. My staff received government support during the lockdown and we received a loan to relaunch the business."
For Bararh who recovered from COVID-19, the pandemic has been a turning point in his life. Although he survived, he lost both his parents to the virus. "After what I experienced, my outlook on life has changed. What used to go unnoticed is now precious. And life is very precious," he said.
In Morocco, as elsewhere, the virus has hit many people. Some businesses have closed while others are struggling to survive. In this daily battle against the virus, the African Development Bank has made up to $10 billion of emergency funding available to support African countries' response to the crisis and cushion the impact on their economies.
Because every life counts.