Egyptians’ ‘negligence is fueling coronavirus threat’

People walk in front of closed shops in Cairo, Egypt March 19, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Egyptians’ ‘negligence is fueling coronavirus threat’

  • On Saturday, Al-Azhar and the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments, as well as Coptic Pope Tawadros, decided simultaneously to close mosques and churches
  • Egypt’s government has closed schools and universities until the end of March

CAIRO: Many Egyptians are ignoring strict government measures to combat coronavirus and risk adding to the human toll of the global pandemic through negligence, observers warn.
Amr Hashem, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, condemned what he called “wrong behavior” and said the government should be firmer “to protect Egyptians from themselves.”
The coronavirus pandemic is believed to have killed ten people in the country and infected nearly 300 others.
Egypt’s government has closed schools and universities until the end of March, and suspended flights to and from the country for two weeks from March 19. It has also ordered the closure of coffee shops, restaurants and malls from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night for two weeks.
On Saturday, Al-Azhar, the highest religious authority for Muslims, and the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments, as well as Coptic Pope Tawadros, decided simultaneously to close mosques and churches. Friday prayers in mosques were also halted for two weeks.
The measures are in line with additional steps taken by the government to sanitize major streets along with private and public institutions. 
“We have seen through social media how many Egyptians are refusing to heed health instructions or avoid public gatherings. They even mass in some places like wedding halls, coffee shops and supermarkets,” Hashem said.
“We now see some people smuggling hookahs into cafes. We see them making fun of a virus that is claiming hundreds of lives around the world daily.”
Sociology researcher Magda Mustafa said the government’s decisions were “a bit late because they gamble on Egyptian behavior.”
There are 100 million Egyptians and it is extremely difficult to control the behavior of such a large number of people, she said.
“We said on Thursday last week that the Friday prayer must be canceled in mosques to avoid the spread of the virus, and to follow the decisions taken by Saudi Arabia and other countries,” Mustafa said.
“However, our calls were in vain. The minister of endowments himself delivered the Friday prayer sermon before a large number of people. He said in his sermon something to the effect that nobody knows when he will die.
“Why do we take action only after catastrophes happen?” Mustafa asked, predicting a surge in the number of infections in Egypt as a result of mass gatherings during Friday prayers in mosques, in addition to the carelessness by which Egyptians have shown in dealing with the virus. 
Dr. George Atteya, a gastroenterologist, said that Egypt’s Ministry of Health has been giving advice to people through awareness campaigns in print and broadcast media, and even on the streets.
“However, the problem lies in the people themselves,” he said.
Atteya said that Egyptians’ behavior is difficult to change in one day. “The issue is all about a virus, a pandemic that is spreading due to negligence and ignoring hygiene.”
Social media users shared photos showing large gatherings in market places on Friday along with images of coffee shop owners supposedly closing their doors after 7 p.m. but actually leaving them ajar.
Online comments included calls for authorities to impose a curfew to help reduce the number of viral infections.

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”