Egypt eases restrictions despite surge in coronavirus infections

Egypt eases restrictions despite surge in coronavirus infections
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government has been keen to save the Egyptian economy that was hit hard by the virus outbreak. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Egypt eases restrictions despite surge in coronavirus infections

Egypt eases restrictions despite surge in coronavirus infections
  • Government keen to save the Egyptian economy that was hit hard by the virus outbreak
  • Egyptian doctors’ union warned last month the country was careening toward a catastrophe

CAIRO: Egypt on Saturday lifted many restrictions put in place against the coronavirus pandemic, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms and theaters after more than three months of closure, despite a continued upward trend in new infections.
Authorities also allowed the reopening of mosques and churches.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government has been keen to save the Egyptian economy that was hit hard by the virus outbreak.
On Friday, the International Monetary Fund approved another $5.2 billion loan for Egypt, to be added to the $2.8 billion the fund had already promised to stave off the pandemic’s worst economic effects.
Before the pandemic, Egypt had just emerged from a three-year economic reform program that came with securing a $12 billion IMF loan in late 2016.
In Cairo, a sprawling and bustling metropolis of some 20 million people, coffee shops reopened to receive in-house customers for the first time since mid-March. But “shisha,” the hookah waterpipe so popular in the Middle East, are no longer offered widely over sanitary concerns.
Cafes have been allowed to reopen at only 25 percent seating capacity, according to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly.
Mosques and churches will also not be allowed to hold their weekly main services, when large crowds traditionally gather for worship. The government has banned Friday’s Muslim prayers at mosques and Sunday masses at churches, Madbouly said.
Wearing face masks, worshippers Saturday poured into mosques for the fajr, dawn, prayers, for the first time in months.
“People were looking forward to that day,” Red El-Sayad said, the prayer leader of a mosque in Giza. “They miss the mosques.”
The reopening has met with criticism, not least because Egypt is still recording relatively high new coronavirus infections and deaths, raising concerns the country’s health care system could soon become overwhelmed. The Egyptian doctors’ union warned last month the country was careening toward a catastrophe.
Egypt’s health ministry has reported 62,755 infections, including 2,620 deaths — the highest death toll in the region.
However, the actual numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher due to a number of reasons including limited testing.