Before Covid-19 :
My wife and I moved to live in Fes Medina 15 years ago, back in 2005.
We love the country, the climate, the countryside, wildlife, food, festivals, cheap prices, freedom and have made very good friends here.
Life was great and we returned to the UK only in emergencies, though we enjoyed a few trips to Spain every year to stock up on some of the English products we can't get here. We had a great time here, couldn't be better, really.
And then came March 2020 and Covid-19.
The world, Morocco and our lives changed completely and possibly forever........................
The Beginning of The Pandemic :
I keep up with the international news every day, so I heard about this new virus fairly early in January, but didn't think much about it. The reports were conflicting and several viruses have come out of east Asia in the last few years and never really amounted to anything. It was only towards the end of January, when Hubei Province in China announced a city by city lockdown that I began to wonder where this was going. By the end of January there were thousands of cases in China, it was begging to hit surrounding countries hard and the first outbreaks were occurring in Europe and North America including the first case in the UK.
My wife and I knew it was only a matter of time before it reached Morocco, but were still largely unconcerned. We went to Spain for a few days holiday towards the end of January. No cases had been confirmed in Spain at this time. Everything in Morocco and Spain was the same as always.
By the end of February it became obvious that this was a global pandemic. Thousands had died in China and the death toll was rising in many European countries including the UK and Spain. My wife and I began to think what we'd do if, and when, the virus hit Morocco. Go to Spain? Return to the UK? We love it here, so decided to sit tight, largely because of our darling Moroccan tortoise, Tidgy, who is a protected species and so we couldn't take her with us.
We heard from Korean friends of the first occurrences of Moroccans yelling "Corona" at tourists, particularly those from South East Asia. Thankfully, this has never happened to us.
Covid-19 Arrives in Morocco.
2nd March - The first case is confirmed in Morocco. A man who arrived recently from Italy. The government tells people not to worry. We don't.
Morocco does immediately react, however, and some upcoming festivals are cancelled. We think this is a wise precaution.
3rd March - All the passengers on the aircraft have been found and isolated. Fake news begins.
4th March - Lots of fake news and neighbours and acquaintances start to fuel the rumour mill with conspiracy therories. We will hear that this was deliberately started by the Chinese/ French / Americans/ Jews/ Illuminati/ Aliens to wreck the world economy or cripple Morocco! Many don't believe it is real or not any different to the flu. One or two say it is Allah's doing and that this is the beginning of the end of times.
8th March - Again, I am pleased with the Moroccan Government as it bans flights to and from some Italian cities. But we begin to wonder if it would be wise to find someone to care for our tortoise and prepare to leave before Morocco bans flights to the UK and Spain which are beginning to have large increases in the number of cases and deaths. But as Morocco still only has two cases it would seem to be safer here.
10th March - The third case and first death in Morocco, but as it was an 89 year old lady with underlying, chronic health conditions, it doesn't cause much concern in Fes, which is still clear.
11th March - The first case in Fes, but we understand it's in the new town, not the medina. Sea routes are suspended to Italy and we wonder about the ferries we use to cross over to Spain. We're pretty sure they'll be closed before too long.
12th March - Head of Government, El Othmani says not to panic. We don't.
13th March - Flights to Algeria suspended, schools are closed. We do a little one to one English teaching, so tell our handful of students that lessons are cancelled until the schools reopen. Some are disappointed, and so are we, as they are our friends and some have important exams coming up.
14th March - Flights are suspended to 21 countries including Spain and France but not the UK. We know that we may have to decide immediately if we wish to leave or it will be too late. Do we book a ferry to Spain or a flight to England or Wales? We don't want to go, we love our life in Morocco so much and nothing has changed for us yet. Morocco also seems to be much safer than Europe regarding covid, so we decide to wait at least a little bit longer.
15th March - The decision is made for us, as all international travel is suspended indefinitely. Repatriation flights are promised but we have decided we want to stay.
16th March - All mosques, cafes and gyms are closed. I occasionally go to the cafe with friends or my wife, but very seldom. The pandemic has actually had no effect on us whatsoever so far.
19th March - A State of Emergency is declared , beginning tomorrow. Protests have been happening at night in a few places and we are pleased when the police arrest the ringleaders, putting a stop to this nonsense. The idiot woman from Fes who has been spreading fake news on the internet is also locked up. We are very happy with how the Moroccan authorities have acted strongly and quickly thus far. Helps us feel safe.
Life in Lockdown.
I went to the local authorities on the second day to obtain Exceptional Movement Certificates for my wife and me. These allowed us to go shopping and go the pharmacy, but that was about it.
My first day of shopping in lockdown was a bit of a worry. I had seen news reports and heard from friends in various countries of panic buying, hoarding and even fighting. Now, I didn't expect to have the shortage of toilet paper experienced by many, it's not exactly a staple in Morocco, but I wondered if there would be any problems with supply. Some were worried about a shortage of gas cylinders, but this never arose. For some unfathomable reason, I couldn't get any eggs on my first two outings, but since then, there have been no problems of supply. I was, and still am, horrified by the general failure of Moroccans to wear face masks, social distance or take this pandemic seriously. I know the souks I go to are so narrow that social distancing is pretty much impossible, and some shops are better than others, but most people don't wear a mask. They still barge in front of you if you're buying something and they just want one or two items. Mind you, this has annoyed me for fifteen years.
However, our Moroccan friends have, of course, been delightful, offering to do our shopping for us, telling us to ask if we need anything at all.
I was able to meet a friend on the street to get some face masks, we stocked up on hand sanitizer, soaps, and anti-bacteriological sprays and then it was the new routine.
I go shopping twice a week, once into the souk for meat, fruit and vegetables and once to the local general store for milk, fizzy drinks, dried goods and so on. I was very pleased when the local hairdresser began to stock and sell fruit and veggies as they couldn't operate their usual business, as this saved me quite a walk in the scorching summer days. Shame that's now stopped. Otherwise, in these last five months, I have been out twice to the post office and that is all. Nobody has entered our apartment, except the kind fellow who delivers our gas cylinders for us. We are taking this very seriously as both of us are high risk, me because of lung damage from my TB and my wife as she is older and overweight with some underlying medical conditions. We wash our hands even after returning from the terrace or post box. Items we buy are diligently washed.
My wife has been out maybe twice a month to visit the supermarket in the new town to stock up on the bits and pieces she likes we can't get in the medina (largely alcohol!) I don't like to go there at the best of times. I love the medina. She's been to the chemist a couple of times as well.
Our visa was due to expire towards the end of April, but the office for renewal was closed and the totally unhelpful British Embassy and the British Ambassador himself just didn't answer any of our questions. We found out from the very helpful Australian, American, Swiss and French embassies that Morocco had promised to honour expired tourist visas and residency permits once the borders reopened without the usual fines.
Intercity travel was soon suspended, but we're quite happy to stay in Fes, for now. We believe no one should be travelling at all unless absolutely necessary. We miss our Spain trips, but it's no great hardship. wifey spends her days reading, playing games on her mobile and chatting with her internet friends. I am an amateur paleontologist, so use my time to read papers, prep and identify my specimens, post of the Fossil Forum and the Tortoise Forum too. I miss seeing my Moroccan friends, but life's generally still pretty good.
I was very pleased with most of Morocco's early response, except for the use chroloquine and the wait for Saudi Arabia to ban the Haj rather than cancelling it for Moroccans themselves. It's great the field hospitals that have been set up, the availability and production of masks, since a slight hiccup at the start, Moroccan made ventilators and the help for the people that has been provided by the government. It was good for us that water and electricity bill payments were postponed, though we're all paid up to date now. The King; Mohammed VI, has led by example and is always seen with his mask on, unlike many other world leaders. I also think the reluctance to bring home Moroccans stranded abroad until the country was capable of dealing with the influx of potentially infected people was a good idea.
Where it All Went Wrong.
People started travelling to visit relatives for Eid al-Fitr near the end of May, despite being asked to stay home. (some, like my neighbours, hadn't stopped at all, they had several groups of people visiting throughout Ramadan.) Morocco started repatriating it's citizens stuck overseas at the same time. A few days later, the cafes and restaurants started to reopen.
But June was an optimistic month, fewer cases per day, no deaths on several days and a gradual easing of the lockdown. Too early. I understand people frustrations, the approach of the big Eid and the economic damage that was being caused but what happened in June is what has caused the current huge outbreak in Morocco and the deaths of hundreds of people. Morocco has gone from one of the countries best dealing with covid-19 and an example to the world, to being one of the worst hit at the current time. Internal tourism was encouraged, life began to return to normal in many areas and the virus spread. So stupid.
In the last week of June, further areas had many of the lockdown rules relaxed as cases started to rise sharply. This was blamed on an increase in testing. Hmmm.
July saw a gradual increase in cases and deaths and an increase in repatriations. From the middle of the month it is possible for us to return to the UK on special flights, but we're still happy here, it's still safer than the UK at this point, we feel. 5,000 mosques are reopened. After again promoting internal tourism, people are advised not to travel for Eid al-Adha. Many are confused. Including us.
Towards the end of the month hotels reopen at full capacity, public transport at 75% and cultural centres at 50%. And then travel out of several cities, including Fes is stopped again. No one takes any notice, few are wearing masks properly if at, including some of the police, who don't seem to be doing enough to enforce the laws. Transport city to city is stopped with little warning, leading to an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities.
We start to hear rumours that all foreigners on expired visas must leave the country by August 10th, only two weeks away, but after failing to get any kind of confirmation from the British Embassy, as usual, we go the local police and find it's true and that we must have a visa extension, residency or leave the country, though some say there will be no problem when the borders reopen, as we had been promised, others say that fines will be issued. But buy the time we've got our paperwork for our residency together, everything is closed for the Eid.
We go back to the police in the first week of August to get our extension.
Since the end of July it's been frightening. Cases over 1,000 a day, most days, and thirty or so dead daily. Fes is one of the worst hit cities.
Our Situation Today.
So, we're still in Morocco and quite happy to be so, despite the worrying epidemiological situation at the moment. We stay in except for essential shopping, but we don't really mind, we are happy and healthy and hope to continue to stay that way. I still enjoy my weekly shopping trips, I like to see the vendors, many of whom I consider to be friends, people still enquire about my wife (and sometimes, tortoise) and we stay in touch with our Moroccan and foreign friends via phone and internet.
We continue to read, play games and enjoy each others company. I spend a lot of time with my fossils.
Times are bad, we wish everyone in Morocco the best of health and hope everybody will begin to behave sensibly.
But we are better off than millions in this fantastic country and around the world, so don't complain much.
Be safe, people, wherever you may be.