Coronavirus: a good week for Egypt as deaths and infections plummet

Steep drops come as country continues to open up after lockdown

A motorist arrives for testing at a drive-through coronavirus screening centre in Cairo. AP Photo
A motorist arrives for testing at a drive-through coronavirus screening centre in Cairo. AP Photo

Egypt has had by far its best “Covid-19” week in months, with fatalities and confirmed cases of the deadly disease significantly down as the country of 100 million people continues to reopen more, confidently inching closer to normality.

According to the Health Ministry, there were 4,598 Covid-19 cases in the week ending Friday, showing a 55.5 per cent decline on the 10,342 cases registered during the corresponding seven-day period in June, when cases and deaths accounted for about 50 per cent of the figures in the previous four months combined.

Fatalities in the July 18-24 period also saw a sharp decline of 45 per cent, with 330 deaths compared to 600 during the same period in June.

The figures bear out the forecast by Egyptian officials that the infection curve would flatten by mid-July before it begins to decline.

The health ministry has reported 91,072 Covid-19 cases and 4,518 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic hit Egypt five months ago. Officials say the actual number of cases and fatalities could be as much as 10 times higher. However, the ministry’s figures, while not reflecting statistical realities, are considered a reliable indicator of the pandemic’s curve.

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

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The government almost completely reopened the country on June 27, saying that until a vaccine is developed, Egyptians must learn to normally go about their business while taking precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks in crowded public places.

Critics at the time accused the government of putting the economy ahead of the well-being of Egyptians and called for lockdown measures to remain in place until the pandemic was over. However, the July figures suggest these fears were unfounded.

The government is further relaxing regulations from Sunday by allowing restaurants and cafes to stay open until midnight, not 10pm as has been the case since June 27, and to double their operating capacity to 50 per cent. Shops and malls will be allowed to stay open for an extra hour until 10pm.

However, public beaches and parks will stay closed, and congregational prayers at mosques and churches remain banned. Cinemas and theatres will continue to operate only at a quarter of their capacity

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has asked religious authorities to come up with guidelines for the “gradual” return to Friday prayers, according to a statement from his office. Muslims, who make up the overwhelming majority in Egypt, will not be allowed to visit mosques to offer the special early morning prayers on the first day of the feast of Eid Al Adha at the end of the coming week. The same ban was applied for Eid Al Fitr at the end of the holy month of Ramadan two months ago.

Official conferences will be allowed on the condition that participants do not exceed 50 at venues with a 100-person capacity. Exhibits and fairs will resume in October, according to the statement.

Egypt has gone to great lengths to prevent the economy from tanking because of the pandemic, announcing an ambitious stimulus package in March that included tax breaks, easier terms for debt repayments and a steep interest rate hike to encourage savings. It has also provided day workers with financial support to weather the lockdown. Egypt has also turned to the International Monetary Fund for help, taking two loans worth a total of nearly $8 billion to help it get through the pandemic.

The government’s swift reaction to the economic fallout of the coronavirus showed its alarm that the hard-won economic gains made over the past four years through an ambitious reform programme co-ordinated with the IMF could evaporate, plunging the country back in the financial turmoil it was mired in for years after a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Updated: July 25, 2020 09:36 PM

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