Egypt reopened some mosques for Friday prayers despite a rising daily tallies of coronavirus cases in the past week that validated official warnings of a second wave of infections if preventive precautions are not taken more seriously.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Health Minister Hala Zayed have been calling out Egyptians for ignoring rules about wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing in public.
“The occurrence of a second wave is mostly associated with a false sense of security that the pandemic is over and that prompts them [Egyptians] to be lax about adhering to precautionary measures,” Mrs Zayed was quoted as saying during a meeting with the prime minister on Wednesday.
The number of new cases reported daily in August has ranged between 150 and 200, a dramatic drop from about 1,500 in June and the first half of July. However, the number of daily infections has been rising steadily since August 22, from 89 to 237 on August 27, according to a tally of reported cases kept by Worldometer.
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The number of people in Egypt who contracted the disease since the pandemic began six months ago stood at 98,062, including 5,342 fatal cases, as of August 27.
Officials have said the risk of a second wave will increase significantly in the next two months as schools and universities reopen after a six-month closure that included the summer break.
The reopening of mosques for Friday prayers comes with the same precautions laid down when they were reopened for the five daily prayers in July. Besides wearing masks and keeping safe distance, worshippers will have to bring their own prayer mats, while washrooms for the pre-prayer cleansing will remain closed. The Friday sermon will be limited to 10 minutes and the mosques will be closed immediately after prayers.
Egypt's government has reopened the country gradually, returning it to near normality in late June after a three-month lockdown that hit the economy hard and forced it to seek billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund. A surge in infections could force the introduction of another lockdown that would deal another body blow to the economy.
Egypt's Covid-19 cases are relatively low for a country of 100 million people and a poor health system, although officials have speculated that the actual number could be 10 times the figures reported. Thousands may have been treated outside the health system or recovered from the disease without suffering severe symptoms. Many patients may have chosen to keep their illness secret because of the social stigma associated with the disease in some segments of society.