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Egypt authorities take additional measures to curb coronavirus spread and stimulate economy

The government on Thursday ordered the closure of all restaurants, cafes, casinos, amusement parks, nightclubs, bars and commercial centers from 7 pm to 6 am every day until March 31 as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The decision does not apply to delivery services and places that sell food and other essential goods, such as bakeries, grocery stores, supermarkets and pharmacies.

Fourteen additional people have tested positive for COVID-19, the Health Ministry announced on Wednesday night, bringing the total number of diagnosed cases in Egypt to 210, including six deaths.

Damietta recorded the first confirmed case of a doctor testing positive for COVID-19. The doctor was treating patients in the Damietta Chest Hospital and was transferred to quarantine in Ismailia after being diagnosed, according to Youm7. Damietta governor Manal Awad said in a televised statement on Tuesday that the governorate had recorded 14 cases of coronavirus so far. Meanwhile, medical sources also reported another case of a doctor who tested positive for the virus at Cairo University’s student hospital in the Faisal district of Giza, according to medical sources who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a guest at a Hilton hotel in Alexandria tested positive for coronavirus, the Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza said in a statement to guests on Wednesday. The hotel did not identify the guest’s nationality, but a medical source told Ahram Online he is an Italian national.

As the need for wider testing grows, the Health Ministry’s Central Department of Laboratories announced it will open 13 official laboratories across Egypt’s governorates on Thursday for PCR lab tests. The head of the department, Nancy El-Gendy, said in a press statement that citizens can head to laboratory branches to undergo the necessary tests.

As the pandemic spreads, authorities are continuing to take measures in an effort to control the spread of the virus and to stimulate the economy.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Manpower announced that workers in the informal sector will be eligible to receive a one-time payment of LE500 from post office branches to make up for some income lost as a result of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus. Workers in the informal sector without health insurance or sick-leave schemes are among the country’s most economically vulnerable. In a televised interview, Manpower Minister Mohamed Saafan said that 400,000informal workers who are registered at the ministry will receive the one-time disbursement.

According to the latest figures from the official Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million workers in Egypt  — 46.1% out of the 25.7 million total people in the labor pool — do not have a contract with an employer. By that count, the one-time disbursement to 400,000 workers represents just 1.6% of those working in the informal sector.

In addition to measures aimed at mitigating the economic effects of the crisis on lower-income families, the government also announced a sweeping package of measures directed at investors and industry. Energy subsidies that could cost the government as much as LE6 billion were announced, while major tax give-aways and cash support are also on offer, including:

  • Stamp duties on shares bought by foreign investors are to be reduced by LE0.25 to LE1.25 per LE1,000. Local investors get a steeper cut from LE1.5 to LE0.5 per LE1,000.
  • No capital gains tax will be charged to foreign investors, local investors will be exempt until 2022.
  • Heavy and average-use industries will be offered subsidies on natural gas and electricity, while prices for other usage brackets will stay fixed for three years. Natural gas prices will be reduced to US$4.5 per million thermal units, while electricity prices will be reduced by 10 piasters.
  • Payment of outstanding property tax dues on factories, tourist facilities and assets will be delayed for three months. After the three months have elapsed, the government will allow repayment in installments over a six-month period.

Egyptian authorities are also continuing to restrict movement across the country. The Red Sea governorate was the first of the “tourism governorates” to announce a lockdown, sending industry workers into 14 days of quarantine on Tuesday and freezing domestic tourism. Aswan, Luxor, and South Sinai followed suit on Wednesday.

Public transport, mosques, churches, schools, butchers, and any public-gathering place will be sterilized on Friday, the Health Ministry announced, while the Armed Forces used trucks on Wednesday to disinfect Cairo University.

With sightings of military vehicles on the streets, the military spokesperson issued a statement denying rumors that the Armed Forces are being deployed to enforce a curfew. It marked the second time Tamer al-Rifai has spoken out against rumors this week, after he contradicted claims that military aircraft had sprayed disinfectant over municipalities.

Meanwhile, the flight ban will begin this afternoon and last at least until March 31. Cargo flights and internal domestic flights will continue, while tourists will be able to complete their holidays if they choose to do so. Officials stressed that Egyptian airspace will not be closed.

Nevertheless, Egypt has halted all travel by its wheat inspectors, the head of the agriculture quarantine body told Reuters on Tuesday. According to Reuters, “delegations currently in Russia and Ukraine will return and be put under a 15-day quarantine. Only one delegation will remain in France pending further announcements on a curfew or travel restrictions by Paris, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s plant quarantine administration Ahmed al-Attar said.”

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