March 18, 2020 / 4:52 PM / 20 days ago

UPDATE 2-Morocco asks people to stay home over coronavirus fears

(Adds details and updates coronavirus cases)

By Ahmed Eljechtimi

RABAT, March 18 (Reuters) - Morocco asked its citizens not to leave their homes except to buy essential goods, seek medical treatment, or go to work, as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus, the interior and the health ministries said on Wednesday.

Morocco has confirmed 54 cases, including two deaths and one recovery. Most cases were found in Moroccans resident in Spain, Italy and France - all suffering much larger outbreaks - who had returned home for visits.

“We also found locally transmitted cases... in hotbeds that require more vigilance against the virus outbreak,” said health minister Khalid Ait Taleb.

Authorities have been disinfecting public transportation and deployed loudspeakers on cars, asking people to stay home, especially those with pre-existing health problems and the elderly.

The call for self-quarantine was the latest in a series of measures including closure of mosques, schools, eateries and sports and entertainment venues, in addition to the suspension of all international passenger flights.

King Mohammed VI asked the government to prepare for further measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday he ordered that field hospitals be set up across the country to assist health services.

Morocco has a total of 1,640 intensive care beds in public and private hospitals, according to the health minister.

The pandemic is expected to hit the Moroccan economy hard, with the pivotal tourism sector, which last year attracted 13 million visitors and represented nearly 11% of GDP, standing to lose 34 billion dirhams ($3.5 billion) in revenue this year, said Abdellatif Kabbaj, head of Morocco’s tourism association.

Donations to a special government fund to be devoted to improving health infrastructure and to offset the pandemic’s social and economic repercussions have exceeded $1.5 billion. (Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi Editing by Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O’Brien)

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