Morocco extended the ban on international passenger flights until the end of January to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. The shutdown is a severe blow to its vital tourist economy, with people working in the sector warning Morocco to go bankrupt.
the National Airports Office (ONDA) announced on Friday that all passenger flights to and from Morocco would be suspended until January 31, 2021.
Royal Air Morocco – the local airline – said its exceptional flights scheduled between December 24 and December 31, 2021 will continue to operate.
The government imposed the measure to initially run from late November to December 31, although a mechanism has been put in place for Moroccan citizens abroad to return home.
From now on, the only authorized passenger movements are one-off repatriation flights for foreign nationals in the kingdom, authorized on a case-by-case basis by Rabat.
The government has also banned all New Year’s celebrations and reimposed a nighttime curfew.
Festivals and cultural gatherings have been banned since early December.
A bankrupt tourism sector
The restrictions have hit the Moroccan economy, which relies heavily on tourism. The sector is already on its knees after two seasons lost due to the pandemic.
An industry official quoted by news site Medias24 said the industry suffered losses of at least 88 million euros between Christmas and the New Year.
The country received some two million tourists during the summer of 2021, against only 165,000 the previous summer, according to the Ministry of the Economy.
But hopes of a recovery were dashed by another spike in cases in Europe, followed by the announcement of the Omicron variant which the WHO says may be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines.
And as their country joins other states around the world battling a new wave of infections, Moroccan hoteliers have lost what little hope they had.
“We were very optimistic with the arrival of the new year, but these decisions took us by surprise,” said Khalid Mubarak, secretary general of the National Federation of Travel Agencies of Morocco.
“We were on the verge of bankruptcy.