Egypt receives first international tourist flight after three months

A man wearing a face mask is seen in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza after reopening for tourist visits, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cairo, Egypt July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Egypt receives first international tourist flight after three months

  • A number of tourists expressed their happiness at being able to visit Egypt

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed its first international tourist flight after a hiatus of more than three months caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The flight from Ukraine arrived at Hurghada International Airport on Wednesday, with passengers praising the thorough precautionary procedures implemented on arrival, during transfers and at their hotels.

A number of tourists expressed their happiness at being able to visit Egypt, adding that they were looking forward to enjoying the atmosphere on the coast of the Red Sea and at the city of Hurghada itself.

Amr Hanafi, governor of the Red Sea region, told journalists that after the period of disruption caused by COVID-19, he was happy with the arrival of the flight.

Hanafi said that 166 tourists had arrived from Ukraine, and that others had since arrived throughout the day. He stressed that all precautionary and preventive measures had been put in place for them from the moment they landed to their arrival at their hotels.

Those measures included the use of thermal cameras to take the temperature of passengers in the arrivals lounge, stickers reminding people to keep two meters apart, as well as various information notices for passengers to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of staff. 

Hanafi was at the airport to receive the plane and talk with the passengers about the procedures, and oversaw the sterilization of luggage. He said that the disinfection process took 25 minutes in order to be extra safe. 

The governor added that the tourists were greeted with a performance by a traditional folk band, carried out with full precautionary measures, ensuring social distancing between both the band members and the audience during the show, which took place in an open air part of Hurghada International Airport.

Ahmed Youssef, head of the Tourism Promotion Authority, said that on Thursday the airport would receive another flight from Switzerland, and that other flights would begin to arrive from several more countries in the coming days, lending hope for a revival of tourism in the Red Sea area.

Youssef added that he visited a number of hotels and tourist villages that had health and safety certificates showing their implementation of COVID-19 preventative measures, praising them for their diligence and dedication to maintaining safety standards.

EgyptAir, Egypt’s national carrier, stated that it had resumed regular international flights from Cairo International Airport on Wednesday.

Fourteen EgyptAir flights carrying around 2,000 passengers departed on Wednesday to several countries, with the first, a flight to Tunisia, carrying 35 passengers.

“We are pleased to receive our customers with all preventive measures in place, from when the passenger enters the airport to when they reach their destinations,” Rushdi Zakaria, president of the Holding Company of EgyptAir, said.

Yesterday, Cairo saw the arrival of 38 international flights from various destinations ranging from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

Updated 20 min 41 sec ago

Moroccan capital’s boatmen row against tides of modernity

  • For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols

RABAT: Rowing their wooden boats across an azure river mouth, Moroccan ferrymen battle not just winds and currents but also rapid urban development which is threatening their traditional way of life.

This year the coronavirus and a sharp drop-off in tourism have further conspired against the water taxis across the Bou Regreg river estuary, between the capital Rabat and its twin city of Sale.

For decades, the boatmen have used elbow grease to ply their trade, rowing their bright blue boats, decked out with cushions and carpets and shaded by parasols, across the choppy waters below the medieval Kasbah of the Udayas.

“Our boats have always been part of the history of the two cities and yet we have no support,” sighed Adil El-Karouani, one of the 72 professional boatmen who shuttle back and forth between the river shores from dawn to midnight.

“We feel marginalized and abandoned.”

Karouani, 45, said he was 11 when he started in the business and vowed to “fight so that this profession, inherited from my father, does not disappear.”

But he faces a tide of modern development as the once flood-prone estuary has undergone a 1.5 billion euro development program, launched in 2006 by King Mohamed VI with the help of renowned architects such as Marc Mimram and Zaha Hadid.

Since then swamp areas have been reclaimed, overpasses built and a luxury real estate project with a marina has transformed the Sale riverfront. Since 2011, a tram supplements the bus network, used by the thousands who commute daily from residential Sale to their jobs in the capital.

Some regulars still prefer the gentle bobbing of the small boats driven by muscle power.

“We breathe fresh air ... it’s better than the traffic jams of taxis or the bustle of the tramway,” said Tarek Skaiti, who enthused that he likes to “lose the feeling of gravity” during the short river crossing.

On weekends, the quays of the Bou Regreg still draw crowds of visitors, many of whom take boat tours to the ramparts of the UNESCO-listed medieval fortress where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. From the new Marina de Sale, motor yachts now offer faster and more expensive tours. Jet-skis roar across the river “without worrying about the danger,” complained Nouredine Belafiq, who has worked as a boatman for 26 years.

“With the coronavirus, there are almost no tourists,” lamented Driss Boudy, a vigorous 62-year-old man who proudly introduced himself by displaying his professional boatman’s license.

“We do an endurance job: It takes strength and heart to move a one-and-a-half ton boat with 400 kilo of passengers, especially when the tide is high,” said his colleague, Khalid Badkhali.

“I’ve tried other jobs, but I’ve always come back to the river,” said the 50-year-old, who pointed out that his precarious job doesn’t entitle him to any social security cover.

On neighboring piers, trawlers unload their haul of sardines, surrounded by flocks of seagulls — the last vestige of what was, until the beginning of the 20th century, Morocco’s largest river port.

Impoverished by the public health crisis that has paralyzed life in Morocco for many months, the fishermen feel as “marginalized” as the boatmen, said one of them, Adil El-Karouani.

“Many have lost their jobs and some are leaving clandestinely with their boats” in the hope of reaching the Spanish coast, he said, corroborating local media reports of “illegal immigration mafias” operating from Sale.

Desperate migrants hoping for a better life in Europe pay between 2,000 and 4,000 euros for the risky journeys.

The river boat crossing costs just 2.5 dirhams (about 0.2 euros), says a faded sign on the pier. The price, set by the authorities, has not changed for years.