By Ahmed Eljechtimi
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's experiment with vaccine mandates that spurred angry protests last month appears to be coming unloose, with most cafes, restaurants and train stations no longer asking customers to show their passes.
With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading, Morocco has continued its aggressive policy of countering the disease, stopping most air travel on top of its tough internal restrictions and high rate of vaccination.
A tour of Rabat commercial premises showed that only some big chains and shopping malls were still requesting proof of vaccination.
After the protests last month the government said businesses could also use a negative COVID-19 test instead of a pass showing proof of vaccination, but most business premises did not appear to be asking for either.
"I have never asked my customers to show me their vaccine pass. I have no right to ask them if they are vaccinated. All I can do is to ensure distance between tables," said a café owner in Rabat.
"I am not in a position of authority to ask people if they are vaccinated or not. I am only an indebted café owner," he said.
The union of cafe and restaurant owners, the lawyers union, rights groups and some opposition parties have attacked the pass as unconstitutional, arbitrary or a danger to the economy.
The government introduced the policy to encourage higher rates of vaccination - leading to a surge in people attending inoculation centres immediately after the policy was announced that started to slow soon afterwards.
Morocco is already Africa's most vaccinated country, having inoculated 22.7 million people with two jabs from the total population of 36 million. It has introduced booster shots.
"We still have to vaccinate 4.5 million people to reach the collective immunity target," said Dr Said Afif, member of the health ministry's scientific community.
Morocco is recording about 100 new cases and some three deaths every day, down from a peak in the summer.
However, the travel restrictions have hit the tourist hubs of Marrakech and Agadir.
"We fear tourists will think 1,000 times before picking Morocco as a destination because of the sudden border closures," said Taher Onsi, a union activist and restaurant owner in Marrakech.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, editing by Angus McDowall and William Maclean)