Egypt will deduct 1 per cent from people’s salaries for 12 months starting on July 1 to offset the economic effects of the coronavirus, according to a draft law approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday.
The country announced its highest one-day number of coronavirus infections on Tuesday but the government said it still planned to ease restrictions after the Eid holidays.
The Health Ministry said 720 Covid-19 cases were registered over the previous 24 hours, taking to 13,484 the number of infections since the outbreak of the disease in February.
Tuesday’s figure was the third consecutive one-day record high but was a jump of almost 200 cases over Monday’s report of 535.
Although the number of infections and death toll of 659 remain relatively low for a country of 100 million people, their growth suggests that the worst is yet to come.
But the authorities are still planning to further relax restrictions after the Eid holidays at the end of Ramadan.
The government has complained that Egyptians are not seriously dealing with the coronavirus threat and that they need to observe social distancing and hygiene guidelines more diligently.
It has been trying to strike a balance between protecting people and preventing the economy from tanking, encouraging the return to business as usual with sufficiently protective measures.
A plea made last week by the doctors’ union for a complete lockdown until the end of the month was ignored by the government.
Critics say it is sacrificing lives for the sake of the economy.
The government’s response is that Egyptians must learn to live with the virus.
Without a vaccine, it says, anything else will lead to the collapse of the economy, wiping out hard-won gains made after years of austerity and harsh reforms.
That strategy, similar to the approach of several West European nations, is backed by Egypt’s business community, which says a collapsed economy would probably prove deadlier than Covid-19.
But in a bid to rapidly expand testing rates, the government also announced Wednesday that all 230 general hospitals would now offer testing to people showing symptoms of the illness.
People with minor symptoms will be sent home to wait for results, while those showing serious symptoms will be admitted to hospital, the government said. Since May 14, patients with minor symptoms have been asked to self-isolate at home.
While the government is not releasing information on the number of tests conducted, a presidential adviser said earlier this month that 105,000 tests had been done.
A near-complete lockdown is due to start on Sunday and will remain in force until May 29, to coincide with Eid Al Fitr.
A 5pm to 6am curfew will be in place, public parks and beaches will be closed and all public transport halted.
Private buses will be banned from travelling between provinces and shops other than pharmacies, supermarkets and bakeries will be shut, as will malls, restaurants and cafes.
Starting on May 30, wearing masks will be mandatory in public places such as banks, public transport and government offices. Offenders will be fined.
“These measures will limit the chances of the virus spreading because of the large gatherings to mark the big occasion,” the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mustafa Madbouli, said this week.
Mr Madbouli said that starting on June 15, the gradual return to normality will begin.
Sports clubs and youth centres will partly reopen but will operate with social distancing and other preventive measures.
Mr Madbouli said that also starting on June 15, authorities will consider holding some rituals at mosques and churches.