Coronavirus: Egypt eases some lockdown measures

Mosques will remain closed for Ramadan as government plans slow return to normality

A woman speaks on her phone as she shops for Ramadan lanterns ahead of the holy month, in the Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week and Muslims all around the world are trying to work out how to maintain the many cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
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Egypt on Thursday moved to relax some of the measures it took to contain the coronavirus outbreak as the government made its first steps in a cautious return to normal life.

Restrictions on movement during the night were reduced by an hour, allowing the return of some crucial government services, as the country prepared to mark the start of Ramadan.

But mosques will remain closed for the holy month, denying the Muslim majority some of the spiritual rituals associated with Ramadan.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said in a televised speech that his government was considering a gradual return to normal life after Ramadan, which begins on Friday.

The return depended on the level of commitment shown by Egyptians to social distancing, hygiene practices and avoiding large gatherings during the holy month, Mr Madbouly said.

From Friday, restrictions on movements will start at 9pm, instead of 8pm, and will still end at 6am.

Courts of law and vital government services including contract certification and car licensing and registration, will partially return next week, Mr Madbouly said.

Shops and malls will be allowed to open throughout the week, not just the current Sunday to Thursday.

Restaurants and cafes will return to business, but only for takeaway and home delivery services.

Mr Madbouly said relaxing measures would be subject to regular reviews.

He said the number of infections and fatalities has so far remained within the forecasts made by the government in the early stages of the outbreak.

But Mr Madbouly said harsh measures would be taken if the figures increased out of control.

“Offenders will face firm proceedings,” he said.

He predicted the number of daily infections could reach and possibly exceed 200 from the current average of between 150 and 180.

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country is heading towards 4,000, with almost 300 deaths, official figures show.