A shop assistant checks customers' temperature before they walk into the store, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt March 19, 2020. (Reuters)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed urged Egyptians on Wednesday to "stay at home" to help slow the spread of the coronavirus as she announced 40 new cases and one death.
The new cases bring the country's total number to 442 and raise fatalities to 21.
"The next two or three weeks are very important," the minister said in a press conference broadcast live on TV, while calling on people to exercise vigilance and avoid gatherings and family visits.
Egypt declared a two-week curfew from 7 pm to 6 am starting Wednesday, the broadest measure yet taken to combat the spread of the flue-like virus. Authorities had already halted international flights, banned mass gatherings, shuttered cinemas, mosques and churches and suspended communal prayers.
"We want to lower the curve [in new infections]," the minister said. "The government measures mean: stay at home."
"To protect public health, I appeal to all families to stay at home," the minister added, highlighting that countries who have the worst outbreaks had not complied with self-isolation measures at an early stage.
Of the total number of infections in Egypt, 93 people have recovered and 131 have retested positive.
Officials have previously warned of reaching the "dangerous" milestone of 1,000 infections, but Zayed stressed it is the time frame that matters.
"It will not be worrying if we reach 1,000 [cases] in the long term. It would be worrying if we reach the figure in two or three days," Zayed said.
Egypt has good chance of beating the virus but it would only work if everyone followed the restrictions, the minister said.
The government's "proactive measures" have been key to keeping the number of infections at bay so far, she added.
All deaths from the respiratory disease in Egypt have occurred among the most vulnerable people including the elderly and those with chronic diseases, the minister said.
Egypt is conducting tests for the highly contagious virus at 21 central laboratories in different governorates, with plans to increase the number to 27, Zayed said. Around 25,000 tests have so far been conducted.