Coronavirus in Morocco: chatting with local expert Bouchra El Lamman

Morocco has done incredibly well in containing the coronavirus pandemic. We chatted with local expert Bouchra El Lamman to learn more about the country's experience, and how it might open up to travellers again.
Traditional Moroccan mint tea in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo: Olena z/Shutterstock
Traditional Moroccan mint tea in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo: Olena z/Shutterstock

There’s been little mention of Morocco on Western news feeds, but the North African nation has done enviably well in containing coronavirus: the total death toll has only just topped two hundred. To dig a little deeper, we caught up with Bouchra El Lamman, our local expert in Morocco, to find out how life is being lived with Covid-19, and what travellers might expect for the future.

In conversation with Bouchra El Lamman

Q: What’s the current situation like in your city (Marrakech) and in Morocco as a whole?

A: I’m happy to say that Morocco took very quick action, closing borders and imposing a very strict lockdown when they had only a few dozen cases confirmed in the country. As a result, our health system has been able to handle the situation extremely well. Our intensive care units have never been at over 14% occupancy rate, and the total number of deaths is so far 206, with around just 8000 positive cases confirmed across the whole of Morocco. We have been confined for nearly three months now, and the government is planning to gradually­ lift the restrictions from 10 June. In Marrakech, the situation is as good as in the rest of the country. We are allowed to go out to buy essentials and cafés and restaurants are able now to service costumers on a take-away basis. We are required to wear a mask at all times when not at home. Masks are easily available at a cost of less than $1 for ten units (the country took control of the textile industry very early and focused on fabric masks – currently we are the second bigger exporter worldwide outside China). 

Bouchra El Lamman

Q: When do you think Morocco will be able to receive tourists again?

A: The government is being very cautious and they haven’t given a date for the opening of the borders yet, although most hotels will be operating from July. We estimate the country would be in a position to welcome travellers back later than that, though – perhaps September.

Q: How has Covid-19 affected you, the company and your current work environment?

A: We have been directly hit by the pandemic, as three of our members of staff tested positive for the virus, and we sadly lost one of them. Financially speaking, our company remains strong. We have been working remotely from home throughout the confinement and look forward to going back to the office, hopefully on 10 June.

For now, all of us are confined and working from home, busy rearranging our clients’ trips. We have established protocols to ensure the safety of our clients before any trip, and created procedures to follow should the unexpected happen during the trip.

Chefchaoeun blue city in Morocco. Photo: Olga Kot Photo/Shutterstock

Q: Do you think travellers will experience Morocco differently when lockdown is over? How?

A: Of course. I believe travellers will experience a new Morocco – they will be looking for relaxing spots and nature activities, while almost all sightseeing will be planned in the early morning.

In short, travel will be very different, but we have already started to create products adapted to this situation. The good thing is that Morocco is a country full of remote places – where time already seems to have stopped. And if you want social distancing, the Sahara offers plenty!

Q: What are you looking forward to the most after the lockdown?

A: I am looking forward to doing all those things that we took for granted before and that now seem so precious… being out with friends, going for a walk in the medina, having dinner out in a nice restaurant…

Historical site in Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. Photo: Alex Cimbal/Shutterstock

As it so happened, two of our editors, Zara Sekhavati and Aimee White were in Morocco when Covid-19 hit. Here are Zara’s recollections:
The moment we landed in Essaouira, everything changed. Entering our guest house wasn't the usual chit-chat of "What are your plans in Morocco"? "Is it your first time here"? Instead, it was "you need to leave as soon as possible, they are closing the borders". Aimee and I were constantly online and trailing through Twitter trying to find any information. Should we go to Marrakech? Rabat? Or stay put? We kept to our original Essaouira plans and tried to enjoy our writing-retreat holiday as much as possible. During our time there, restaurants and cafés were still open, they only shut after 6pm on our last night – along with supermarkets. We savoured our last succulent tagines and sipped on sweet mint tea as we watched the world slowly shut down. We bumped into fellow travellers and people on our flight all asking us the same question: "Do you know if the flight is cancelled?" Following the British Ambassador to Morocco's advice, we stuck to our original schedule and thankfully we were able to board. Huge cheers erupted as others bought emergency tickets for the flight and managed to grab a seat, desperate to go home. Aimee and I have vowed to go back to Essaouira again as soon as we can – and to finish our writing projects there along with plenty of mint tea.

Asilah, Morocco. Photo: Jose Carlos Serrano/Shutterstock

Bouchra El Lamman is one of more than 50 local experts that Insight Guides partners with worldwide to offer totally customizable, tailor-made trips. Our local experts take care of all the details before your trip, and on the ground while you're there, so that you don't have to. There's a 24/7 emergency phone number, too, so you can travel knowing that you'll be taken care of, whatever happens. Well, what are you waiting for? Start browsing our trips today.