Rabat – Workers in Morocco’s vital tourism sector protested for the second time this month on Wednesday to denounce a two-month-old border closure aimed at countering the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Nearly 200 travel industry workers gathered in front of the tourism ministry in Rabat, while local media said other demonstrations occurred in the tourist centres of Agadir and Marrakesh.
The North African country suspended all passenger flights from November 29 until at least January 31 as the highly infectious Omicron variant spread worldwide.
The restrictions have dealt a punishing blow to Morocco’s tourism sector, already suffering after two lost seasons because of the pandemic.
“The closure has struck us very hard because we have had to cease operations, while our expense are still fixed,” said Mimoun Azzouzi, who owns a travel agency in Temara, near the capital.
Demonstrators said they are “excluded” from a two billion dirham ($214 million) government aid programme for the sector.
Tourism accounted for nearly seven percent of GDP in 2019.
Questioned on Monday in parliament, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said it was “important to reopen the airways just as it is important to follow the evolution of the pandemic.”
About 200 industry workers threatened with bankruptcy had also protested the border closure outside the tourism ministry on January 4.
Morocco’s health ministry said the peak of Omicron infections came in the week ending January 23 but they have concerns about a resurgence.
In Tunisia, also in North Africa, the government on Wednesday announced a two-week extension of a night-time curfew — including a suspension of public gatherings – that took effect earlier this month.
Tunisia this year has experienced an explosion of new coronavirus cases to around 9 000 per day.