As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads rapidly across the world, forcing different countries to take strict and emergency measures to curb the crisis and cushion its impacts socially and economically, Egypt was no exception as the government has followed suit and responded efficiently to the threat.
Egypt officially reported the first COVID-19 case on 14 February. Since then, Egypt has taken several measures on economic, medical, social, and educational levels. Daily News Egypt reviews what has happened in Egypt during the past weeks in this regard.
Egypt’s Health Ministry announced four new coronavirus fatalities on Sunday, the highest death toll on one day since the virus was first detected in the country. The ministry also announced 33 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 327 and the total deaths to 14.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called for more discipline to control the spread of coronavirus, saying the state has taken several decisions, but “the virus is spreading significantly … and we need the society to help us more with commitment and discipline.”
Emergency economic measures
President Al-Sisi announced allocation of EGP 100bn to confront COVID-19, reducing the prices of natural gas and electricity for industry.
He also ordered launching “Troubled Clients” initiative for those affected in the tourism sector, providing EGP 1bn for exporters in March and April to pay some of their dues, lifting administrative reservations on all financiers who have due taxes for only 10% of tax.
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) slashed its basic interest rates by 300 basis points during an unscheduled meeting on 16 March, bringing overnight deposit and lending rate as well as main operation to 9.25%, 10.25%, and 9.75%, respectively. The CBE also deferred credit dues for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) for a period of 6 months, and ordered no fines on delayed payment.
Moreover, the CBE allocated EGP 20bn to support the Egyptian Exchange after it incurred heavy losses due to the coronavirus fears. The bank also ordered banks operating in the country this week not to impose fines on non-performing loans, directing banks as well to delay credit dues for institutions and individual clients, including consumer loans and mortgage finance for a period of six months.
Al-Sisi also allocated EGP 1bn for exporters in March and April to repay their entitlements, and delayed real estate tax payments for factories and tourist facilities for a 3-month period.
The president extended the suspension of the tax on agricultural lands (14% of cropland lease value per feddan) for two years. He also increased annual bonus of pensions to 14% as of July and included retired employees in the five bonuses allocated to employees in service (valued at 80% of their basic salaries before retirement).
Egypt’s nightlife silenced by COVID-19
Last week, the state has ordered closure of all restaurants, cafes, casinos, nightclubs, shopping malls from 7 pm to 6 am daily until 31 March, excluding pharmacies, bakeries, and grocery stores. Some local media reported that those who violate the closure order will be fined. Also, a hotline was launched for citizens to report violations.
Social media campaigns were launched calling on people to stay home for everyone’s safety. Media also launched awareness campaigns on how to protect oneself from the virus. Others focused on things the people can do while in homestay to avoid boredom and tips on how to work from home.
Also, many supermarkets and groceries offered free delivery to prevent people from going out to ensure social distancing.
Officials also in several entities have been calling on people to stay home. Deputy Chief of the Egyptian Railway Authority Samy Abdel-Tawab called on Egyptians to avoid using public transportation unless necessary to curb the outbreak of COVID-19, adding that decreasing the number of commuters or trains will not solve the crisis.
Ministry of Interior suspended all visits to prison inmates until end-March, in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Moreover, the government and private sector offered remote work for many employees, however there are others who still work in office, especially those in public services. The state has also allowed working mothers with young children to stay home.
Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) suspended daily prayers and weekly Friday prayers for two weeks, as well as suspended marriage and condolence ceremonies in mosques until further notice to combat COVID-19.
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church also decided to shut down all churches and halt all activities and ceremonies, except funerals limited to small numbers of family members, for two weeks as of 21 March.
Social awareness campaigns were launched as well to spread personal hygiene habits among the people.
The cabinet took several measures including the cancellation of large public gatherings and the halting of local football league for two weeks.
The government closed schools and universities for two weeks starting 14 March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases rises. The suspension period is expected to extend for a longer period.
Students from in primary education (from grade 3 to grade 8) will not take second-semester exams, but they will instead prepare a research paper for every course and submit it online within two months.
High school students (grade 9-11) will take the final exams remotely. The results of the exam will be sent to the students online.
For high school students (grade 12), the final exams will be conducted as scheduled and inside schools, with full consideration for health precautions to ensure the safety of students.
Health authorities on alert
Al-Sisi directed to raise the degree of readiness in all hospitals in accordance with the standards of the World Health Organization, through cooperation and coordination between all concerned authorities in the state, and to launch continuous awareness campaigns for citizens of different groups, with the aim of providing guidance to the people regarding the coronavirus.
He also directed early examination of any suspected cases, as well as increase health control over ports of entry.
The Minister of Health announced that China provided Egypt with technical documents for the precautionary measures taken by the Chinese government to control the coronavirus, in addition to 1,000 detection kits for the virus free of charge.
As a state of panic prevailed in some areas, people rushed to pharmacies searching for sanitisers and disinfectants so prices of medical supplies soared. Therefore, the Egyptian Trade Ministry banned the export of surgical masks and disinfectants as well as medical alcohol for three months in a bid to avert a potential shortage in the local market.
The Egyptian authorities took strict precautions for the tourism sector, imposing self-isolation on workers in hotels and resorts for 14 days. The government also closed all museums and archaeological sites.
Maged Fawzi, President of the Hotel Establishments Chamber, said workers in the field of tourism who contacted with foreigners will not leave their workplaces for 14 days as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus.
The last group of tourists in Luxor and Aswan left on Sunday, while others were allowed to complete their previously planned tourist programmes in other cities, provided that they will leave after the end of their tours.
The Egyptian authorities have ordered the suspension of flights to and from Egypt until the end of March to limit the spread of the coronavirus.