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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RABAT: Several special flights departed Morocco Sunday taking thousands of stranded Europeans home as the kingdom announced it was suspending all regular air traffic due to the coronavirus, authorities and airports said.
Morocco said Sunday it had decided to suspend all international commercial flights “until further notice,” extending a ban that had previously been applied to around 30 nations, including Italy, France and Spain.
But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow special repatriation flights for its nationals.
“Some 40 flights are operating to France today (Sunday) and tomorrow (Monday) from several Moroccan cities and others will follow in the coming days,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Twitter.
According to information provided by Moroccan airports and embassy notifications, several other special flights were heading out of the North African country for Europe on Sunday, mostly to Belgium, Spain and Germany.
The French embassy, like other foreign missions, has set up a special crisis cell and replied to more than 8,500 messages on Twitter from tourists seeking assistance.
“There are flights, we are waiting at the counter. It is very tense,” French traveler Sabrina told AFP by telephone from the southern tourist hub of Marrakesh.
Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Morocco’s GDP and is a key source of foreign revenue in the country which last year attracted 13 million visitors.
Meanwhile, thousands of Moroccans have found themselves stranded abroad, awaiting repatriation at airports, especially in France, according to local media.
Moroccan authorities on Sunday upped the number of confirmed cases in the country to 28, from 18. One person has so far died from the virus in Morocco.
The country has taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, canceling sporting and cultural events and banning public gatherings of more than 50 people.
This year’s Mawazine music festival — held annually in Morocco and one of the biggest such events worldwide — will be canceled, organizers announced Sunday.
It had been due to take place in June and last year attracted 2.75 million people.
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