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With a lot of countries in Europe and the Americas trying to get back to some semblance of normality after 18 months of lockdowns, mask-wearing, worry, and uncertainty, it can be easy to forget that the pandemic isn’t over. Far from it. Countries like the UK and Israel may have had hugely successful vaccine rollouts but COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and a number of countries around the world are now seeing significant spikes in infection rates.
COVID-19 infection rates in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, are now rising and in the UK’s case, reaching levels not seen since January. And while the death rates in these countries aren’t anywhere near the highs of last year (because the vaccines, for the most part, are doing their job), this isn’t stopping some countries from getting spooked at the way some infection rates are trending.
One of the spooked counties is Morroco and as of midnight yesterday, Morrocco has banned flights from the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany in response to what it sees as infection rates in those countries going rapidly in the wrong direction.
As the Guardian newspaper pointed out, the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show that Morocco’s weekly rate of reported coronavirus cases on 14 October stood at 10.4 per 100,000 people while the comparable rate in the UK is 445.4 per 100,000 and I think we can agree that that’s a pretty significant difference.
When I first heard this news I wasn’t entirely surprised because the UK’s infection rates have been going the wrong way for some time and I assumed that Morocco was focusing on infection rates over death rates because its vaccine roll-out is significantly behind the roll-out in the UK and Europe. But that’s not actually the case.
The latest figures that I’ve found (from a simple Google search) show that 63% of the Moroccan population has had at least one dose of a vaccine while 56.7% of the population is fully vaccinated. Those percentages may not be as high as they are in the UK (73.6%/67.5%), Germany (68.9%/65.8%), or the Netherlands (74.3%/67.3), but they’re not exactly a million miles away either.
Morocco is doing ok with its vaccination roll-out. In fact, it has the highest vaccination rate in Africa and yet it is still, obviously, very concerned about rising infecting rates in some European countries. This brings up the question of if Morrocco is alone in worrying or if other counties are thinking the same way?
If Morocco, with a fully vaccinated percentage of almost 58%, is starting to ban flights because of increased community transmission of COVID-19, are we going to start to see other countries following suit?
As a nation, the United States of America has fully vaccinated just 57.5% of its population (less than 1% more than Morocco) and we already know that our administration is more than a little (selectively) skittish when it comes to infection rates abroad, so will the US reconsider its plan to reopen to previously banned Europeans from 8 November? Will it choose to open to Schengen counties but not to the UK?
I’m genuinely fascinated to see what happens here because while it’s entirely possible that Morrocco is an outlier and is overreacting, is also possible that a significant number of other nations are considering following Morocco’s lead. That would be a huge step back for the travel world.
The reality is that the major vaccines significantly reduce the chance of people dying from COVID-19 but the evidence also points to the fact that they don’t always stop people from contracting the virus (and therefore passing it on).
Any country that’s concerned about its unvaccinated citizens could well look at counties with rapidly increasing transmission rates and decide that they present a danger to their population (even if they’re counties with a high percentage of fully vaccinated individuals) and promptly ban all travel to/from those counties all over again. Welcome back to 2020!
If this happens but is limited to nations like Morocco, things probably won’t be too bad – Morocco is a beautiful place but it isn’t a center of world commerce and it isn’t a vacation hotspot for most of the world – but what’s to say that our government here in the US won’t decide to get overly and unnecessarily concerned about the significant number of our citizens who remain unvaccinated?
At this point in time, I’m still optimistic that most major players on the world stage don’t want us to go back to how things were at the beginning of the year or, worse yet, the middle of 2020, but the actions taken by Morocco shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as it probably isn’t alone in being as concerned by transmission rates as it is by death rates. It’s not impossible that we’ll see more travel bans coming back.
We’re not out of the woods yet and while things are still moving in the right direction in most countries, no one should be taking anything for granted. Morroco may be overreacting and may turn out to be an outlier, but it will only take a new variant that shows some signs of resistance to Pfizer and AZ to turn up, and then just watch the chaos unfold.
Statistically speaking, I’m told that this probably won’t happen, but it’s also not out of the question.