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Thursday, 09 April 2020

Crowds gather outside Cairo ministry building to seek coronavirus lab test certificate

Sama Osama , Sunday 8 Mar 2020
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A crowd of Egyptians waiting to get inside the Central Public Health Laboratories to get the PCR test certificates required for travelling to Saudi Arabia (Photo: Sama Osama)
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Hundreds of Egyptian gathered for hours on Sunday morning at the Central Public Health Laboratories in Abdeen in Downtown Cairo to get a lab test certification that proves they are coronavirus-free, a recent requirement for travel to Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, Nancy El-Gendy, head of the Central Department of Laboratories at the Ministry of Health, announced that starting on Sunday, Egyptian travellers to Saudi Arabia can obtain PCR lab test certificates from the central laboratory headquarters.

According to El-Gendy, the fees for the test are EGP 1,000 for Egyptians and $70 for non-Egyptians.

An urgent test, with results in 24 hours, costs EGP 2,500.

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People climbing the fence of the Central Public Health Laboratories building and a tree in front of it (Photo: Sama Osama)

Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that travellers entering the country using a new or a pre-existing visa would have to present a PCR lab test certificate proving they are coronavirus-free.

The crowd gathered outside the building on Sunday consisted mainly of Egyptians who work in Saudi Arabia and their families, many of whom told Ahram Online they were scheduled to return to the kingdom any time this week.

Some of those waiting had flight tickets for Sunday night and Monday and were hoping to get their test results on the same day.

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Entrance to the barricaded Abd El-Aziz Gawish Street where the side entrance of the laboratories is located (Photo: Sama Osama)

The crowd was large enough that it was blocking traffic in El-Sheikh Rihan Street, where the main entrance to the laboratories is located, and blocking access to the building itself.

Some laboratory employees at the scene were struggling to make their way through the crowds to access the building, while others could be seen watching the crowd from the windows.

Several police trucks and cars were parked in the vicinity, and dozens of young police personnel were deployed in groups on the pavements.

Police had barricaded both entrances to Abd El-Aziz Gawish Street, where the side entrance of the building is located, to prevent people from entering.

Many in the crowd were sitting or sleeping on the pavements, while others had climbed trees or walls to get a glimpse of what was going on inside the building, or to communicate with workers inside.

The building was scheduled to open its doors at 10am, but those waiting said that none of those queuing had entered the building as of 1:30pm.

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A number of men trying to break into the building through the main gate (Photo: Sama Osama)

A man in the crowd whose flight to Saudi Arabia is on Wednesday told Ahram Online that he had left his hometown near Fayoum at 4am to be on site at 6am to get in line; however, it was nearly 2pm and the doors were not yet open.

At one point, a young man in the crowd suddenly collapsed, likely due to the heat of the afternoon sun, and a group of people carried him to a nearby building belonging to the American University in Cairo.

On another occasion, a man shouted that he couldn’t find his wallet, and the crowd started to warn each other to guard their wallets and phones because there might be pickpockets present.

As tensions built, some of those waiting began to bang and push on the building’s main door, but to no avail.

When many people began to give up and leave, an indistinct announcement was heard over a loudspeaker.

Some people said that the announcement was inviting women and children to enter through the side door to be tested, and some succeeded in getting inside, although others could not make it through the crowd.

At 2pm, police started to place security blockades along the sidewalks of Sheikh Rihan Street in order to organise the waiting crowds into two queues outside the building.

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Police forces deployed inside the crowd to organize the entrance (Photo: Sama Osama)

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