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Stranded tourists flood Morocco airports amid flight cuts over coronavirus fears

Thousands of tourists are stranded in Morocco [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2020

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Morocco has suspended regular flights with some 30 countries affected by the new coronavirus epidemic, leaving thousands stranded.

Thousands of tourists packed airports in Morocco on Sunday hoping to board scarce flights back to Europe after regular air links with some 30 countries were suspended in response to the coronavirus.

"There are flights, we are waiting at the counter. It is very tense," French traveller Sabrina told AFP by telephone from the southern tourist hub of Marrakesh.

Morocco has suspended regular flights with some 30 countries affected by the new coronavirus epidemic, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Greece.

Flights to and from other destinations such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia were also scrapped, as were sea links with European countries.

Read also: Morocco bans customary kissing of Mohammed VI's hand to protect him from coronavirus

But France announced that Rabat had agreed to allow special repatriation flights for its nationals.

"New flights are being organised to enable (stranded French tourists) to return to France," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday.

The French embassy, like other foreign missions, set up a special crisis cell and received more than 7,000 messages on Twitter between Friday and Saturday from tourists seeking assistance.

Special coverage: How many coronavirus cases are there in the Middle East?

According to information provided by Moroccan airports and embassy notifications, several other flights were heading out of the North African country for Europe on Sunday.

The special repatriation flights were mostly headed to France, Belgium, Spain and Germany.

This sparked a rush on ticket purchases online, witnesses told AFP.

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Morocco's GDP and is a key source of foreign revenue in the country which last year had 13 million visitors.

Moroccan authorities have reported 18 cases of COVID-19, including one death.

The country has taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, cancelling sporting and cultural events and banning public gatherings of more than 50 people.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 5,845 people worldwide, while over 157,000 infections have been confirmed.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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