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Egypt adopts raft of measures to combat coronavirus spread

Forty additional people have tested positive for COVID-19, and two more people have died due to complications from the virus, the Health Ministry announced on Monday night. According to the ministry’s statement, the new positive cases include 35 Egyptian nationals and five foreign nationals, eight of whom returned from the Umra pilgrimage in Mecca, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Egypt to 166.

The deceased include a 74-year-old German man who died in Luxor, and a 50-year-old Egyptian woman who died in Daqahlia, bringing the total number of virus-related deaths in Egypt to four. The 50-year-old Egyptian woman had been in contact with a 60-year-old woman who died on March 12 in the same governorate.

Three hundred families in the Daqahlia governorate have been put under quarantine, where two of the four people who died from COVID-19-related complications contracted the virus. Health Minister Hala Zayed said strict pre-emptive measures are being taken in Daqahlia, Minya, and Damietta.

During a phone interview on Amr Adib’s talk show Al-Hekaya on Monday, Zayed said that “more stringent measures” are being taken in places with confirmed cases. She said that 300 families have been placed in quarantine in Daqahlia’s Belqas region, home to the woman who died on March 12. The head of the Belqas region announced a number of other measures being taken, including the closure of weekly markets and disinfection of the entire region.

Meanwhile, Red Sea Governor Amr Hanafi issued a decree on Tuesday to halt domestic tourism for 14 days starting from the departure date of the last foreign tourist. The decree also instructs workers in the tourism industry — including in hotels, resorts, tourist villages, shrines, bazaars, and restaurants — to go into quarantine for 14 days and not to return to their home governorates as a pre-emptive measure against the spread of the virus.

A day earlier, on Monday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly announced that Egypt will halt all air traffic at its airports from Thursday until March 31 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Madbouly said local aviation firms are expected to suffer losses of LE2.25 billion due to the latest measures. Despite the suspension of flights, Madbuly said foreign nationals in the country will still be allowed to complete their tourist plans and leave on their previously scheduled dates of travel, even after the scheduled airport closure on Thursday, without providing further details.

The prime minister also issued a decree to reduce the number of government employees working in various state institutions across the country, with the exception of critical sectors and those that provide basic services, including transportation, water, electricity, ambulance services, hospitals and sanitation.

The details of the decree, published in the state’s Official Gazette on Monday, outlined which government employees will be eligible for temporary paid leave, noting specifically those with chronic health conditions and those who are pregnant or caring for a child under the age of 12 years old. Those with non-chronic conditions will also be granted leave contingent upon receiving a medical report issued by a government hospital. Some employees may also work remotely. And any employee returning from abroad will be granted two weeks of leave upon their return.

However, high-level employees with chronic illnesses are required to continue work either in full- or part-time capacity under the terms of the decree, which does grant officials leeway to make decisions in these cases depending on the health condition. All government employees have been prohibited from participating in any training workshops or traveling abroad on assignment except for exceptional cases as determined by a competent authority. All state agencies are also obliged to sterilize their workplaces.

As the economy tanks due to the pandemic, the Central Bank of Egypt announced an emergency rate cut of three percent — the largest cut since the 2016 currency devaluation — with a new overnight deposit rate of 9.25 percent, an overnight lending rate of 10.25 percent and a main refinancing operations rate of 9.75 percent.

The Central Bank of Egypt announced a package of measures on Sunday aimed at easing banking operations in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. These include instructing banks to postpone all dues and payments on loans taken out by individuals and companies for six months, in addition to raising daily transaction limits on credit cards, canceling fees and commissions applied at points of sale and on withdrawals from ATMs. The government announced Saturday it had allocated LE100 billion to combat the virus outbreak, without specifying how the funding would be allocated.

Meanwhile, the non-profit January 25 Hospital in Sharqiya announced that it is putting its facilities at the disposal of the Health Ministry for use in quarantine or to receive, examine and treat any suspected cases of coronavirus. The hospital said it would bear all medical costs for the treatment of citizens during this period, provided that the ministry provides medical and administrative staff. The hospital also said it would purchase test kits for COVID-19 and make the tests available free of charge under the supervision of the Health Ministry.

Also on Monday, the Cairo Governorate issued a decision to ban the smoking of shisha in cafes and public places, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the virus. Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel Al also banned all weekly local markets across the governorate and ordered the closing of 129 gyms.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Madbouly issued a decision to suspend all cinema screenings and theater performances.

The Telecommunications Ministry has increased internet bundle quotas by 20 percent to “encourage people to stay at home” and to help with remote learning as families cope with school closures, with the National Telecom Regulatory Authority shouldering the cost of LE200 million.

While the government decided to close all universities, schools and nurseries for two weeks as of March 15, Minister of Education Tarek Shawky said in a television interview on Monday night that the closure was likely to extend beyond the two weeks announced.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports, and several companies and newspapers, including Al-Ahram and Akhbar al-Youm, said they would facilitate vacation time for female employees who are mothers to help them care for their children during school closures. The announcements did not mention male employees who are fathers.

Alongside formal places of education, hundreds of education centers where students receive private tutoring lessons around the country have been closed, according to a joint statement issued by the ministries of Education and Interior on Monday.

Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars announced on Sunday that it is permitted for mosques to suspend public prayer, including Friday prayers, to help curb the spread of the virus. The council also called on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions to stay in their homes and not go out for group prayers. The Egyptian Ministry of Endowments has also temporarily banned holding marriage ceremonies and funeral services at mosques and decided to close all mausoleums and shrines nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced on Saturday that it is suspending all church education services and theology schools for two weeks. The church did not cancel daily Mass but said it may hold several services a day in order to split up the congregation into smaller groups. For his part, Pope Tawadros II has decided to suspend his weekly Wednesday sermon until Easter on April 12. In the meantime, the Pope will continue to deliver the sermon without an audience, which will be broadcast live on Coptic satellite channels.

A number of gyms, cinemas, bars and music venues have voluntarily closed down as part of the effort to contain the virus and several private cultural and artistic institutions in Egypt have announced the suspension of their activities, including the French Institute, the Goethe Institute in Cairo and Alexandria, El Sawy Culture Wheel, the Egyptian Opera House, Zawya Cinema and Cairo Jazz Club.

The Health Ministry’s Monday statement announced the end of quarantine measures for 2,752 employees working at the oil and natural gas company Apache in the Western Desert, where a Canadian national, who was the second person who officially tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of March, was working.

The total number of cases of COVID-19 worldwide has reached 189,117, including 7,503 deaths.

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