Egyptians are enjoying a rare five-day weekend – it began on Thursday – and they have the pandemic to thank for it.
To contain the third wave of Covid-19, the government combined national and religious holidays to grant everyone a longer break.
The holiday would not have been possible had the government not elected to declare Sunday, May 2, a day off.
It said it had no intention of ordering a repeat of the four-month lockdown that ended in July last year, and that to do so would devastate the economy and rob millions of daily-wage workers of their pay.
A breakdown of the five-day weekend shows a fair amount of ingenuity on the part of the government, which recently decided to move holidays falling in the middle of the week to either Thursday or Sunday to extend the country’s Friday to Saturday weekends.
A government statement said Thursday, April 29, was declared a national holiday to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Sinai from Israeli occupation, which is normally commemorated on April 25. Friday is a day of rest in all cases.
Saturday, May 1, is Labour Day. Sunday was declared a day off as a “preventive measure” to counter the virus.
Monday, the last day of the long weekend, is the much-loved holiday Sham El Naseem. Dating back to ancient times, it always coincides with Easter Monday, celebrated by the Coptic Orthodox Church, whose followers make up most of Egypt’s Christians.
By stringing together a five-day holiday for everyone except workers in vital areas, the government hopes to curb the spread of the virus during Ramadan.
The holy month, which began on April 13, prompted many Egyptians to ignore measures such as social distancing or wearing face masks to enjoy large family gatherings, visit packed cafes and restaurants and frequent Ramadan tents in which food is served while live music plays.
Health Ministry figures on the rate of infections and fatalities show a sharp rise.
Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Wednesday that the week’s total of 5,845 coronavirus cases was five times the number recorded during the same week last year.
According to the latest figures available that day, 1,011 new infections were detected within 24 hours, making it the second consecutive day in which the toll exceeded 1,000. For weeks previously, the rate of infection hovered around 600, but it began to rise in small but daily jumps.
Fifty-one people died of Covid-19, 10 fewer than on the previous day but as many as 20 more than the average in recent weeks.
The number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began 14 months ago now stands at 225,528 and fatalities at 13,219, but government experts say the actual number may be as much as 10 times higher.