Coronavirus: Egypt steps up the fight against outbreak

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli indefinitely bans all events involving crowds and travel by large groups around country

epa08283824 Egyptian Minster of Health Hala Zayed (R) speaks during a press conference to give updates about the coronavirus cases in Luxor and Aswan, in Cairo, Egypt, 10 March 2020. Coronavirus cases in Egypt have now jumped over 50 according to latest reports.  EPA/MOHAMED HOSSAM
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Egypt, with its population of 100 million, is making all efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus despite a sub-par health system, while keeping people calm and protecting a tourism industry that has just recovered after years.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has indefinitely banned all events involving crowds and travel by large groups around the country to try to contain the coronavirus.

Egypt's Interior Ministry announced a 10-day suspension of prison visits but has so far resisted following other countries in conditionally and temporarily releasing inmates to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

The government has also denied calls to close schools and university classes.

But closures might be imminent, with the country's universities already preparing alternatives to continue teaching students if they were forced to close.

How to protect yourself against coronavirus

How to protect yourself against coronavirus

But Egypt’s education authorities have ordered the suspension of extracurricular school activities such as seminars, trips and camps.

Authorities have also publicised phone numbers and email addresses to arrange repatriation of Egyptians stranded abroad because of the coronavirus.

Those include about 5,000 Egyptians in Saudi Arabia performing Umrah in the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah, who cannot come home because of Riyadh’s suspension of flights to nine countries, including Egypt.

Egypt has so far announced nearly 60 cases of coronavirus, most of whom came from a Nile cruise ship sailing between the southern cities of Aswan and Luxor.

The vessel, along with another operating in the same region, has been quarantined on the river, a safe distance away from urban centres.

Egypt on Sunday announced the first coronavirus-related death. He was a German tourist, 60, who died in the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada after a brief visit to Luxor.

In a bid to save the tourism season, Egyptian authorities and industry leaders have agreed on measures to protect visitors, including hiring experts to check food served at hotels and screening equipment to test guests for the virus.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Tuesday that Egypt has bought cutting-edge coronavirus testing equipment that will be used at the country’s air, sea and land entry points to check arriving passengers.

Test results would be available in 30 minutes, Ms Zayed said.

Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled El Anany said historical sites across the country remained open and record numbers of tourists were visiting them.

It is not immediately clear how the virus has affected tourism.

No statistics have been released by authorities on bookings for the rest of the year, but the number of visitors at major sites does not seem to have declined.

Egypt was declared one of 2020’s top destinations and the country has been looking to the industry to boost its slowly recovering economy.

But sceptics believe the number of coronavirus cases could be much higher than the government figures, with a large number likely to have had the virus but recovered without reporting their condition.

Dar Al Iftaa, the state agency that issues fatwas to guide Muslims, has also entered the battle against the coronavirus.

On Monday it stated four things that Muslims must be mindful of at this time.

It said they should not panic or be overwhelmed by fear if they contracted the virus.

“They must endure while placing their trust in God,” Dar Al Iftaa said.

It said if they became infected, Muslims must be patient and seek treatment.

It also advised the faithful to constantly pray during the outbreak and take preventive measures.