Egypt is bracing for a curfew extension this week after it surpassed the milestone of 1,000 coronavirus cases on Saturday.
The increase in cases has come despite unprecedented restrictions to stem the spread of the virus amid fears that the medical facilities in the country, which has a population of 100 million people, will be overwhelmed.
On Saturday, Egypt detected 85 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total infection tally to 1,070.
The death toll has also risen, reaching 71 nationwide, or 6.6 percent of total infections, while those who have recovered amount to 241 cases, or 22.5 percent.
Osama Heikal, the minister of state for information, told a private TV channel on Saturday that “extreme caution” should be observed during the upcoming period after the 1,000 milestone has been crossed.
“We are trying to extend long term stability in the second stage as much as we can. By the rate at which we are moving in terms of infections, our absorption capacity will enable us to continue for a long period,” he said.
Heikal said that the country’s curfew, which has been in place since late March, would be extended, confirming that the suspension of schools and flights will also be extended.
“The flight suspension is a necessity, since many of the infected patients came from abroad,” he said.
Egypt has implemented unprecedented measures since March to limit the chances of a rapidly spreading contagion, shutting down schools and suspending flights at airports nationwide, yet keeping air space open for tourists leaving the country and to bring back Egyptians stranded abroad.
Health Minister Hala Zayed had previously warned that it would be hard to track the origin of each case if infections climbed to 1,000 too quickly.
Despite the measures the country has taken, the average daily infection rate has risen in the last few days.
When asked about whether curfew hours would be extended like in a number of countries, Heikal said he believes that “this is currently not needed.”
“A full 24-hour lockdown could be implemented owing to the worsening of the pandemic and its outbreak. This would be applied due to citizens not taking responsibility and not respecting the curfew,” he said in a Facebook post, stressing that government measures to combat the virus will not succeed without citizens claiming 100 percent of the responsibility.
“If an upsurge in cases occurs and the curve begins rising vertically, we would reach a scenario that we are trying to avoid,” he said, stressing the necessity of maintaining the current levels of infection.
Egypt is pushing with efforts to eliminate the possibility of the cases doubling, he said.
“We don’t want to reach a phase where a lockdown should be enforced; especially since many of the countries under lockdown still see rates doubling,” he said.
“A full lockdown would take place at the end of the third phase. This is when there are no longer effective measures to contain the virus. But this is would lead to a zero-level economy,” he said.
A full lockdown has been implemented in several countries, including Italy, yet efforts continue to fail to contain the virus, which has claimed over 15,000 lives in the European country.
Since the initial outbreak in China in December 2019, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 1.19 million people and killed 64,421 globally, according to a Reuters count.