Coronavirus: stop kissing to save Egypt, warns MP as Cairo monitors cases

All the cases so far have been non-Egyptians but people want to know how the government plans to stop the spread

A recording on repeat echoes through the storied hallways of the building that houses Egypt’s parliament in Cairo.

The message urges legislators and staff to wash their hands as often as possible and head to the nearest hospital if they have a fever or a cough.

The legislature's television screens, normally used to broadcast the house's debates, now broadcast instructions on a loop advising people how to avoid contracting the deadly coronavirus and how to deal with suspected cases.

Hand-sanitiser dispensers have been installed throughout the historical building.

Egypt, a country of 100 million people and home to a long-strained health care system, is raising its game to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus known as Covid-19.

The country on Tuesday said it had tightened checks at airports and is seeking the advice of China in dealing with cases of the fast-spreading virus.

Already, the government has set up a quarantine for suspected cases in Marsa Matruh, a remote and thinly populated town on the Mediterranean that is about 400 kilometres west of Cairo.

The first cases admitted there were scores of Egyptians brought home last month by the government from the Chinese province of Hubei where the virus was first recorded.

Authorities also ordered that planes and all means of transport at the country's airports be sprayed, and urged the public to diligently follow instructions on the "safe" disposal of rubbish.


The measures followed widespread criticism and stinging satire after it was revealed that there were no precautionary measures in place to vet passengers arriving from abroad.

Critics contended that authorities were keeping news of coronavirus cases under wraps for economic reasons.

The government responded to the criticism by asserting that it works closely with the World Health Organisation and that Egypt's methods to deal with the virus had been commended by the UN agency.

Egyptian Quarantine Authority employees scan body temperature for incoming travellers at Cairo International Airport on February 1, 2020, amidst efforts to detect possible cases of SARS-like "Wuhan coronavirus" (novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV). (Photo by - / AFP)

So far, Egypt has officially admitted to the cases of two men – one Chinese and one Danish  – who tested positive for coronavirus and were put in quarantine.

Hundreds of Egyptians who had contact with them were being checked for the virus.

On Thursday, the prime minister's office said five suspected cases, all non-Egyptians, had been cleared after their tests came back negative.

In an unexpected development that sparked both criticism and praise, Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed travelled to China on Sunday carrying a "gift" of medicines for victims of the virus there and to learn first-hand about China's methods in dealing with the outbreak.

China accounts for about 80,000 of the 89,900 global cases of the virus that has already spread to about 60 countries around the world, with Iran and South Korea among the worst affected.

The minister's visit came just hours after she met with President Abdel Fatah El Sisi, who ordered government bodies to be on a heightened state of readiness to deal with the virus in the most populous Arab nation.

Meanwhile, one MP, Reda El Beltagy, called for additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mr El Beltagy went so far as to call for a temporary ban on hugging and kissing and the indefinite suspension of university and school classes nationwide.

He also urged government to follow up on all cases of Chinese citizens visiting Egypt and to monitor all passengers arriving in the country for at least 14 days.

The proposed ban on kissing found a backer in Imad Hussein, the editor in chief of the nominally independent Cairo daily Al Shorouk.

Mr Hussein claimed in his Tuesday column that Egyptians kiss and hug more than any other people on the planet.

The spread of the coronavirus, he professed, might have a silver lining if it forces Egyptians to abandon what he called the habit of excessive kissing.

“It’s time to stop several of our damaging and unhealthy habits,” he wrote.

“A single kiss, no matter how innocent it is, could infect an entire society … Please, stop kissing, if only temporarily, so that perhaps we can grow accustomed to a healthy and appropriate method of greeting.”