Egypt will impose stricter measures during the Eid El-Fitr religious holiday, including extending its curfew hours and a full suspension of public transportation to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced on Sunday.
The nationwide curfew will begin at 5 pm instead of the current 9 pm starting next Sunday – expected to be the first day of Eid – until Friday, Madbouly said in a televised briefing.
All shops, malls, beaches and parks will be completely shut, Madbouly said, adding that public transportation will be suspended throughout the six-day period, which runs until 29 May.
Travel between governorates will also be suspended, the PM announced.
Madbouly said the extension comes under measures to curtail the spread of the virus during Eid Al-Fitr, which he said poses a risk of a surge in infections due to traditions of gatherings during the festive feast.
"Eid El-Fitr is associated with gatherings and public spaces for Egyptians. This is a major change for the spread of the virus; and that's why as a government we implemented such measures to limit the spread of the virus during the feast and after," he said.
The curfew was first introduced in March as part of a series of measures to curtail the spread of the virus, and has been extended twice since. Other measures include suspending air traffic, shuttering schools and universities, closing mosques and churches and banning public gatherings.
The restrictions have taken a toll on the holy month of Ramadan's spiritual reflection, communal prayers and evening social and religious gatherings after the fast is broken at sunset.
Egypt is nearing a total infection toll of 12,000, including over 600 fatalities, since the outbreak of the virus in mid-February.
Despite its imposed restrictions, the infection rate has continued to rise, sparking fears and worries that an ailing medical sector could be overwhelmed as cases among medical staff continue to increase.
Madbouly said that the curfew will be revised again after Eid Al-Fitr to begin at 8 pm to 6 am starting May 30 for two weeks, marking the gradual reopening of a country heavily affected by the pandemic's repercussions.
Malls and shops will be allowed to reopen all week until the beginning of the curfew.
As of mid-June, the state will announce a gradual resumption of several activities, including sporting clubs and youth centers, while following precautionary measures against the virus, he said. This may also include the gradual reopening of places of worship.
The government will also consider the possibility of a gradual return of in-house dining at restaurants with strict measures later in June, he said.
Despite the gradual reopening of the economy and diurnal activities, Madbouly said that wearing face masks will be mandatory starting 30 May in institutions and private and public transportation, he said, adding that there will be tough penalties for violators.
Sunday's decision comes as Egypt appears adamant to gradually re-open the economy to recover main sources of foreign currency, including tourism and remittances from Egyptian expats.
Egypt has signalled in the past few weeks that it is looking to pull back on some of the heavy restrictions introduced in recent months, and has urged people to maintain social distancing and other preventive measures when these changes are made.
In recent weeks, it has resumed a number of governmental services, including licensing vehicles, as well as some court sessions.
Egypt announced last week a three-stage plan that will see life gradually return to normal as the country learns to coexist with the coronavirus.
The first stage, effective now, entails “strict measures” to prevent a resurgence of the virus, with two other stages, applied when Egypt sees a decline in new cases, seeing medium and relaxed measures.
The parliament is expected to approve this week a newly amended law regulating health precautions to contain the spread of the pandemic, including making wearing facemasks obligatory.
Earlier this month, the government said it was allowing hotels to reopen for domestic tourism on condition they operate at 25 percent capacity from mid-May until the end of the month and put in place a set of health measures for protection against the coronavirus. Starting 1 June, hotels will be allowed to operate with a maximum capacity of 50 percent.
The Egyptian tourism sector, one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency, has continued to suffer huge blows amid the pandemic after it had seen significant recovery in the past few years.
The sector's losses are estimated at $1 billion per month due to an air traffic suspension put in place in March, according to Tourism Minister Khaled Al-Anany.
On Saturday, Egypt said it would provide an EGP 2 billion loan to national carrier EgyptAir to deal with the pandemic's repercussions.
The economic impact of the crisis has pushed Egypt to seek an emergency fund of over $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund through a Stand-By Agreement, after receiving last week $2.772 billion from the fund under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) to meet urgent balance of payments needs.