Egypt on Wednesday extended by two weeks a nationwide nighttime curfew it imposed on March 25 as part of a host of measures to control an outbreak of coronavirus that has to date killed nearly 100 people and infected around 1,500.
In televised comments, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said the duration of the curfew would be reduced by one hour to begin at 8 pm and end at 6 am.
The reduction, he explained, was designed to lessen the rush for and crowding of public transport shortly before curfew kicks in. Anyone stopped by police after the start of curfew, he said, would no longer have an excuse now that everyone would have ample time to get home.
Also extended for two more weeks is the closure of restaurants and cafes, universities and schools as well as a ban on scheduled international flights. Mosques and churches have also been closed indefinitely. The closures are hard-to-take measures for a religiously conservative country headed towards Easter, the most important holiday to Egypt’s 10 million minority Christians, on April 19 and the holy month of Ramadan, which starts less than a week later, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
Already, authorities said they would not allow group iftars, the meal that Muslims eat when they break their fast. Group iftars can attract hundreds and are held on the streets either for the poor or to bring together residents of city neighborhoods.
Mr Madbouli on Wednesday sought to reassure Egyptians about the coronavirus outbreak, insisting that the country remained within the boundaries of “safety,” an assertion that’s supported by the relatively low number of victims among a population of 100 million who live on less than 10 per cent of the land. Egypt’s capital, Cairo, alone is home to more than 20 million people.
He warned, however, that not taking the threat seriously would deliver to Egypt the “disastrous” levels experienced by other countries where the coronavirus, which causes the deadly disease Covid-19, has killed thousands and infected many more.
“So far, the numbers roughly match the scenarios we laid out more than a month ago for the number of victims,” he said. “We will see an increase in the next one, two or three weeks. That is expected, but we want that increase to be small and gradual. We are relying on the extent of commitment by the Egyptian citizens to the measures we have introduced on the ground.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi on Tuesday sought to drive the point home about the need for Egyptians to diligently guard against the virus, wearing a mask for the first time in public and keeping a two-metre distance from several dozen officials and military commanders during a meeting.