In an attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19, stricter social distancing measures will be imposed throughout the five-day Eid Al-Fitr holiday which starts on Sunday.
“Eid Al-Fitr is usually marked by gatherings that this year may lead to the spread of the coronavirus. The stricter measures taken by the government are aimed at limiting the spread of the virus during the Eid,” Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said on Sunday.
The annual Eid Al-Fitr holiday usually lasts three days. This year cabinet spokesperson Nader Saad said it will extend to five days, until Thursday 28 May.
Eid prayers will be broadcast from inside Al-Sayeda Nafisa Mosque. Mosques around the country will remain closed, though they will be allowed to recite Eid prayers through speakers.
The new measures include extending the night-time curfew to run from 5pm to 6am during the holiday. From 30 May it will return to the pre-Ramadan hours of 8pm to 6am.
Malls, beaches and parks will be completely closed during the holiday. Madbouli added that public transport, including between governorates, will be completely suspended.
In subsequent TV statements Saad clarified that microbuses, taxis and ride-hailing apps will be exempted from the transport ban, and that private cars will be allowed to move between governorates.
The new curfew hours won’t apply to food deliveries or workers returning to or from their jobs, and supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to remain open throughout the holiday. Hotel beaches that comply with Health Ministry standards will also be allowed to open.
Two weeks ago, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Enany announced hotels would be open for local tourism and could offer restaurant and day-use services provided they operated at 25 per cent capacity.
“Once Eid is over we will return to the same basic measures in place before Ramadan, and they will continue for two weeks, until mid-June,” Madbouli said. One difference, however, is that wearing face masks in public spaces will be mandatory.
During the two-week phase, which starts on 30 May, shops and malls will be able to open every day outside curfew hours.
Restrictions imposed since mid-March to contain the spread of the virus include a night-time curfew, the closure of schools, universities, mosques and churches and the suspension of international flights.
Despite the restrictions Egypt’s infection rate has continued to rise, surpassing 12,000 confirmed cases on 17 May, three months after the first case was confirmed on 14 February. Though it took seven weeks to reach 1,000 infections in Egypt, it only took three days to move from 10,000 to 11,000 cases.
The number of coronavirus fatalities was 645 on Monday, the highest figure in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation.
Egypt has relaxed some restrictions in recent weeks, including opening car licensing sections at traffic departments, real estate registry offices and some court services. Madbouli said restrictions will be further eased mid-June.
“In mid-June, the government will announce activities that can gradually reopen. They are likely to include houses of worship and sporting clubs as long as precautionary measures are strictly applied,” said Madbouli.
The government appears determined to gradually re-open the economy which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Ten days ago Egypt received $2.772 billion from the International Monetary Fund’s Rapid Financing Instrument programme to help it cope with the impact of the virus.
Last week the Health Ministry published a three-stage plan, pending cabinet approval, that aims to strike a balance “between returning back to normal life and maintaining precautionary measures”.
According to the ministry, the first stage lasts for two weeks and includes the “strictest measures”, including making wearing face masks mandatory, the closure of recreational facilities, and taking the temperature of anyone entering official offices. This is to be followed by gradually loosening restrictions in a 28-day second stage, followed by an indefinite third stage.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly