Egypt’s streets fall quiet as coronavirus curfew kicks in

Cairo has long enjoyed a reputation that it never sleeps, but for the next two weeks it will be under lockdown

A street in the Egptian capital Cairo is deserted on the first day of a two-weeks night-time curfew imposed by the authorities to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, on March 25, 2020.   / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI
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Thousands of policemen fanned out across the Egyptian capital on Wednesday, setting up checkpoints and running patrols to enforce a nationwide, night-time curfew.

The curfew was enforced by the government in its bid to contain an outbreak of coronavirus that has killed 21 people and infected nearly 450.

The two-week curfew went into effect at 7pm and was scheduled to be lifted at 6am.

A city of 20 million people, Cairo has long been called a city that does not sleep, with shops and restaurants open late and residents on the streets during all hours of day and night.


It was obvious 30 minutes before the curfew started that the city’s party days were on hold, with the streets looking eerily deserted.

Earlier in the evening, hundreds waited at major intersections to catch communal taxis home.

Huge traffic jams formed on major thoroughfares and thousands of residents made a last visit to supermarkets. Lines formed outside ATMs but they were not too long.

The atmosphere in Cairo harkened to the days of political turmoil nearly a decade ago when authorities imposed night-time curfews in the weeks and months that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled the 29-year rule of autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.

The curfews those days were not dutifully enforced or observed, but President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has promised to deal “decisively and firmly” with anyone breaching new rules introduced to battle the coronavirus.

The government has introduced other measures including a ban on large gatherings, a halt to international air travel, and closure of schools, universities and historical sites.

Religious authorities have ordered mosques and churches to close.

Bakeries, pharmacies and supermarkets are exempt from the curfew.