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'Major crisis' in Marrakesh as COVID-19 brings tourism to its knees

In the winding streets leading to the iconic Jamaa El Fna square, many of the shops are closed.   -  
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FADEL SENNA/AFP or licensors

Morocco

Marrakesh is almost empty without the millions of visitors who visit the snake charmers, story tellers and colourful traders as the coronavirus pandemic brings tourism to its knees.

Morocco has 35 million inhabitants and has recorded over 1,500 deaths from coronavirus and more than 86,600 confirmed cases.

In the winding streets leading to the iconic Jamaa El Fna square, many of the shops are closed and the ones that open their doors are lucky if they make a sale.

"Most of the traders have closed their shops," said Mohamed Challah, who sells flowing caftan robes.

"The others are opening to kill time because there is nothing to do at home," he said, adding that his store "no longer sells anything".

Morocco declared a state of health emergency in mid-March and shut its borders to stop coronavirus from spreading.

It was hoped after restrictions were eased, domestic tourism may be the answer to mitigate losses for shops and tourist operators.

But new restrictions closed the Marrakesh's borders and seven other cities.

Marrakesh, along with the economic capital Casablanca, is among the most affected cities.

Tourism is a key industry for Marrakesh and attracted three million visitors last year.

For Jalil Habti Idrissi, who runs a 45-year-old travel agency, it will be "very difficult to bounce back".

"We have experienced major crises in the past, but never of this magnitude," Idrissi said, adding his business had "collapsed."

Official figures predict the pandemic could push the country into its worst recession since 1996, with a contraction of more than five percent of its GDP.

In desperation, some took to the streets to protest, calling on the government for help.

"The coronavirus will not have time to kill us, hunger will take care of it before," read one banner held by protesters in Marrakesh on September 11.

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