Coronavirus: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi postpones move to new capital

Opening of the Grand National Museum also delayed as coronavirus infections pass critical 1,000 mark

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gives an address after the gunmen attack in Minya, accompanied by leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council for Police (unseen), at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, May 26, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency.   To match Special Report EGYPT-MEDIA/  The Egyptian Presidency/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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President Adbel Fattah El Sisi on Saturday postponed the shifting of his government to Egypt’s new capital until next year because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, under construction for over a decade and intended to showcase Egypt’s ancient treasures, has also been postponed until 2021, a presidential statement said.

The president's decision underlines the seriousness of the crisis facing Egypt over the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 1,070 people and caused 71 deaths. Officials consider the 1,000-case mark to be the tipping point for a rapid increase in infections that would strain the country's long neglected healthcare system.

Construction labourers work at the future headquarters Ministry of Environment in the government district of the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo, Egypt May 2, 2019. Picture taken May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The headquarters of the Egypt's Ministry of Environment under construction in the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo in May 2019. Reuters

The new capital in the desert east of Cairo is a pet project of President El Sisi, whose mega construction and infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars have been a defining feature of his six-year rule. Ministries were scheduled to move later this year to the new city, where a new presidential palace and house of parliament are being built.

The museum was expected to be opened in October in a grand ceremony to which world leaders and global celebrities would be invited. Among the artefacts to be housed in the museum near the Giza pyramids are the treasures of King Tutankhamun and pharaonic ships.

The 3,200-year-old colossal statue of King Ramses II is seen during its transfer to the main entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo's twin city Giza on January 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED
The 3,200-year-old statue of King Ramses II is moved to the site of the Grand Egyptian Museum near Cairo in January 2018. AFP

However, work on the two projects will continue, the presidential statement said. Mr El Sisi ordered that workers on these and other national infrastructure projects be provided with “the highest level” of health care and protection.

Separately, Egypt's leading cancer hospital was closed for three days on Saturday after nine nurses and three doctors tested positive for the coronavirus, a doctor at the facility told The National.

The National Cancer Institute in Cairo will reopen on Tuesday but its emergency ward will continue to operate normally, the doctor said.

Also on Saturday, Egypt sent two planeloads of medical supplies to help Italy in its fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 15,000 people out of nearly 120,000 infected. Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed accompanied the supplies, which were sent by military aircraft.

A presidential statement said the donation was within the “historical relations and bonds” between the two nations and a part of Egypt’s “pioneering role toward friendly nations across the world”.

Mr El Sisi last month sent the health minister with a donation of medical supplies to China, the first country to be affected by coronavirus.