RABAT (Reuters) - The holy Muslim month of Ramadan is proving particularly lonely and challenging for 30 Moroccan doctors and nurses who have been living in a luxury hotel now for nearly seven weeks to avoid the risk of infecting their families with the new coronavirus.
They shuttle back and forth every day between the five-star Hotel Dawliz and the Moulay Abdellah hospital in Sale, located on the other side of the Bouregreg river from the capital Rabat.
“My father is asthmatic and I would never forgive myself if I took the virus home,” said Mustapha Zeroual, 36, an intensive care nurse.
The medics spend their free time watching television together, chatting, reading or working out, but must always stay more than a metre apart. They keep in touch with their families through phone calls and social media.
The separation is especially gruelling during Ramadan, Islam’s fasting month, when people traditionally get together during the long nights with loved ones, friends and neighbours to share food and drink.
“The last time I saw my parents was from the window 15 days ago when I went home to collect some clothes,” Zeroual said.
This year, Ramadan began on April 28.
Large numbers of Moroccan healthcare workers have opted to stay in hotels since the country went into lockdown on March 20 to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
The North African country, which has about 36 million people, has so far reported 5,053 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 179 deaths.
Morocco has fewer than 1,000 intensive care doctors, so keeping them healthy is critical to its pandemic response.
Many hotels across the kingdom have offered to host medical staff or to isolate mild cases until they test negative and can return home. Local authorities are paying.
Hotel Dawliz, situated on the waterfront near where the broad sweep of the Bouregreg meets the Atlantic, would normally charge upwards of $170 for a room.
But even there, the doctors and nurses find it hard to switch off from work.
“In our free time we continue to check on our patients. The recovery of every patient is a great victory for us all,” Zeroual said.
Not all healthcare workers are staying in hotels. Some decided to take the risk of remaining with their families and must take extra precautions to avoid contagion.
Meryem Bouchbika, an intensive care doctor living with her husband and two daughters, burst into tears when speaking of the care she must take around them at home to prevent infection.
“Risk is part of our job and the call of duty takes priority, but I am more concerned for my children than for myself,” she said.
Reporting by Youssef Boudlal, writing by Ahmed Eljechtimi, editing by Angus McDowall and Gareth Jones