Egypt’s nationwide curfew will be shortened by one hour to begin at 9pm each day, the prime minister said on Thursday.
The curfew, part of a slate of measures imposed to counter the spread of the coronavirus, will run from 9pm to 6am during Ramadan, which starts on Friday, said Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.
The move is aimed at reducing overcrowding in the hours before the curfew begins, he said.
The curfew was introduced in March; initially, it began at 7pm, but it was subsequently moved back to 8pm.
Madbouly also said that the government will slowly take steps to help return life to normal after the Eid Al-Fitr religious holiday, which marks the end of the holy month.
He cited efforts by countries around the world to gradually re-open their economies, due to major losses and increasing unemployment caused by the shutdowns.
The government is also considering resuming domestic tourism, a sector which employs millions of Egyptians, he said.
Shops and malls will be allowed to open during the weekend until 5pm, to allow citizens more time to buy necessities, he said. Previously, they were only permitted to open on weekdays.
Restaurants will be allowed to run delivery and takeout services throughout the week.
The Islamic world is set to see a Ramadan like never seen before this year as restrictions to contain the pandemic are expected to take a toll on the cherished rituals of Islam’s holiest month.
Egypt has banned all public religious gatherings during Ramadan including public iftars – fast-breaking meals – and the communal Taraweeh prayers. The ban will also include the itikaf ritual in which believers seclude themselves in mosques for an extended period.
A decision to slash the number of state employees going to work will be extended for two more weeks to lower the risk of virus transmission, the prime minister also said.
Some of the government services suspended by the state will resume as of next week, including licensing new vehicles and limited official registration services. Courts will only be allowed to hold inheritance hearings.
Egypt has so far recorded 3,659 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 276 fatalities.
The prime minister said the number of infections is expected to rise, but assured the public that the government is able to contain the virus.
“Numbers are very likely to increase and surpass 200 [a day], but so long as they are in line with expectations … we will still be capable of dealing with the issue, which remains under control.”
If the rate of infections surges significantly and becomes “out of control,” the government will take immediate measures that will be harsher than those currently in place, he said.
On Wednesday, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi urged Egyptians to follow public health policies during the holy month.
“Please be alert with us and help us more with the culture of distancing, disinfection and keeping away from gatherings,” he said.
Madbouly stressed that the government seeks to keep work going in important sectors like construction and industry, while making sure that health measures are applied.
Experts argue that the coronavirus will continue to exist in societies through the upcoming period, and the world should therefore find a way to live with the pandemic until there is a treatment or a vaccine.
Madbouly urged citizens to continue to consider restrictive measures and social distancing an integral part of their lives, even if life goes back to normal, as long as the pandemic continues.
He said coronavirus patients who have responded to treatment or show no symptoms are now kept at hotels, university hostels and other facilities to alleviate the burden on health care workers at hospitals and give priority to patients in medium or critical condition.
The dates of the final exams of high school, technical diplomas and university will be announced in the second half of Ramadan, he added.