Minister Dr. Rania Al-Mashat chaired a videoconference meeting with more than 100 professionals representing heads of country offices, development professionals from bilateral partners as well as multilateral development organizations to discuss opportunities for advancing and promoting future mutual economic cooperation and consequences of the spread of novel corona virus.
The meeting was attended by representatives of UN agencies, World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Islamic Development Bank Group, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, USAID, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, French Agency for Development, European Investment Bank, German Development Agency along with Ambassadors and heads of economic cooperation in embassies for numerous bilateral development partners.
The meeting which was under the theme Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation was an important call from the Ministry of International Cooperation to bring forward a platform for discussion around immediate COVID-19 crisis response and set an action plan beyond it through a coordinated effort aligning with national priorities. The link to the presentation:
The Minister acknowledged the work that has been done through the past decade between Egypt and its development partners and praised the value of the international cooperation in supporting the Egyptian economy. On another note, and being the highest priority in the current situation, the Minister announced that the Government of Egypt has applied a simplified fast track process with regard to approving international financing for the purpose of combating the COVID-19.
The Minister highlighted in detail the preparedness and governance of Egypts healthcare system to control the outbreak. As the potential risks of COVID-19 continue to rise, efforts have been stepped up to enhance infection prevention, and identify alternative mechanisms for testing patients through the establishment of 27 laboratories across the country and additional 4 university laboratories to be added, scaling up Infection Prevention & Control (IPC) program with WHO to prevent transmission & ensure patients & health workers are protected, expanding capacity to conduct up to 200,000 tests within two weeks, recurring 15-Day sterilization campaign to be carried out in cities and villages to stop the virus spread and setting up eight isolation hospitals with capacity of 2000 beds with 1000 ICU beds and 400 ventilators in addition to setting up field hospitals for the admission of mild and asymptotic cases.
Efforts of Egypt was acknowledged by the WHO as the Director for communicable diseases in WHOs Regional Office mentioned significant work is being done, especially in the areas of early detection, laboratory testing, isolation, contact tracing and referral of patients.
The Minister added that in connection to dealing with the closure of schools to mitigate the virus spread, while at the same time continuing learning activities, Egypt launched a new digital library available for free to every Egyptian student with learning material (digital objects) extracted from EKB and sorted out/assembled for G1-G12 students in both Arabic and English. In a parallel action, the Ministry of Education & Technical Education (MOETE) decided to deploy a customized version of the Edmodo Learning Management System at around 55,000 schools and train teachers to create their own virtual classrooms and invite their own students (and possibly their parents as well). The response of the Ministry of Education demonstrates the value of international development cooperation as this swift transfer towards digitalization of education was supported by the World Bank and other development partners through the supporting the Egypt Education Reform Project.
Regarding the macroeconomic implications, the Minister focused on the potential balance of payments and fiscal pressures that could arise given the global consequences of COVID on supply chains, demand, tourism, and trade. This was followed by a detailed discussion about Egypts macroeconomic policy responses both fiscal and monetary as well as structural reforms that are collectively aimed at flattening the recession curve as mentioned by the World Bank most recently.
Al-Mashat underscored the various fiscal and monetary policies undertaken to date to help reduce the financial impact on households and the private sector to mitigate the possible slowdown in economic activities. The Minister also pointed to the possible impact of the virus on the SDGs.
The Minister mentioned that efforts to contain the corona virus crisis have expedited structural reforms related to social protection & social safety nets as well as addressing informality. This has been facilitated also by pushing ahead the financial inclusion & digital reform agenda as demonstrated by the recent directives issued by the Central Bank of Egypt.
The Minister also pointed to some of the measures that have been announced in this regard such as a one-off unemployment benefits of (L.E. 500) offered to informal workers registered at the database of the Ministry of Manpower through post offices. Registration, already, included approx. 1 million individuals working in construction, agriculture, fishing, plumbing etc.
On the social protection front; the Minister highlighted 60,000 households were added to Takaful & Karama Program. An additional 100,000 will be added and FY21, budget will increase to 19.3 Billion EGP compared to 18.5 Billion EGP. The Government also increased payments to women community leaders in rural areas from EGP 350 to EGP 900 per month to ensure gender equity.
In the meantime, the Central Bank pushed forward digital reform, including exempting all domestic money transfers from fees & commissions, aimed to decrease the use of cash, increasing limits on daily value transacted via mobile wallets to be increased to EGP 30,000 (USD 1,900), issuing near-field communication / contactless pre-paid card, improving merchant acceptance landscape by encouraging QR codes & request-to-pay method and the automatic enrollment for customers to internet banking services.
The Minister noted that all measures to mitigate the impact of the virus will not and should not derail development efforts from its intended purposes especially achieving SDGs.
Sherry Carlin, The USAID Mission Director in Egypt pinpointed that US has been working with Egypt for more than 40 years; not only on the health sector but also on youth and women empowerment and Education. She confirmed the USAID commitment to continue to support Egypt, especially on this urgent matter; COVID-19.
Ms. Marina Wes, World Bank Country Director, Egypt, Yemen & Djibouti noted that As we are concluding an inspiring and constructive session, I would like to thank H.E. Dr. Rania Al-Mashat for bringing together the Development Partners and showing vision and leadership in critical times. In collaboration with the international development agencies, the World Bank stands ready to support Egypt in its effort to confront the immediate health emergency and mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for the most vulnerable.
Mr. Walid Labadi, IFC Country Manager in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, mentioned that: This is a challenging time for the private sector in Egypt, the main driver of economic growth and employment. Lives, businesses, jobs, and livelihoods are at risk. He added that IFC is working closely with clients and partners in Egypt to help mitigate the already evident impacts of COVID-19 crisis and support businesses as they continue to operate and retain staff.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the World Bank, African Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IFC, Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, French Development Agency, USAID, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, Korean Cooperation Agency, German International Cooperation Agency, KFW, Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, and from the UN Agencies: The Resident Coordinator, UNDP, WFP, IFAD.
ILO, FAO, UNIDO, UNWOMEN, UNHABITAT, UNAIDS, UNFPA were also participating as well as Ambassadors of Japan, France, South Korea and representatives from EU, Switzerland, Netherland, Canada, Spain, Sweden and Germany.