File photo: Closed shops are seen at a popular tourist area named "Khan el-Khalili" in the al-Hussein and Al-Azhar districts in Cairo as Egypt ramps up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt, April 6, 2020. (Reuters)
Egypt extended on Wednesday a nationwide night-time curfew by two weeks, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said, as the country’s coronavirus infection tally continues to rise.
The curfew, first imposed on 25 March, will continue to be in effect until 23 April and will now begin at 8 pm instead of the previous 7 pm, Madbouly said in a televised press briefing.
The amended hours are intended “to give citizens more time to return home to alleviate congestion and pressure on both private and public transportation,” Madbouly explained.
The closure of schools and universities and the decision to slash the number of state employees going to work will be extended for the same period to lower the risk of virus transmission.
Flights from and to Egypt will remain suspended until 23 April, Madbouly announced.
All shops and malls will remain closed on the weekend and will shut down from 5 pm to 6 am on weekdays, the prime minister said. Only supermarkets, pharmacies and bakeries will be exempt from the closure.
Coffee shops will also continue to be totally shuttered and restaurants can only run delivery services.
Egypt had earlier halted international flights, suspended schools and universities, banned mass gatherings, shuttered cinemas, gyms, mosques and churches and suspended communal prayers over the coronavirus.
The prime minister said the current infection count in Egypt is in line with the government’s projections.
“Our projections for this week were 120-150 new cases a day. There will be increases in the number of infections in the coming two or three weeks… but the more important thing is that the rise remains slight and gradual,” he said, adding that this is tied to citizens’ commitment to preventative measures.
If the number of cases doubles, Madbouly says, “this would mean we are approaching a scenario similar to that of countries where things have gone out of control.”
Madbouly also announced that the government will slash 20 percent of its ministries’ salaries for three months.
He explained that the money will be directed towards a presidential initiative to disburse EGP 500 ($32) as financial assistance to non-regular workers for a period of three months.
The money will also contribute to the state-supervised Tahya Misr fund, he added
He also stressed on the importance of avoiding large gatherings in the upcoming period to avoid the spread of the disease.
“The unprecedented situation we’re going through calls for the need to avoid any gatherings, especially during the next weeks, which would see religious occasions for both Muslims and Copts,” he said.
The restrictions are expected to upset festivities and prayers marked by Egyptians on Coptic Easter, the non-religious springtime holiday of Sham El-Nassim and the beginning of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan in the country, which has a population of 100 million people.
The extended measures come one day after Egypt reported nine new deaths on Tuesday, its highest toll in a single day since the first case was detected in the country in mid-February. Another 128 new cases were confirmed on the same day, bringing the total to 1,450 cases and 94 deaths nationwide.
The increase in cases comes amid fears that medical facilities in the populous country will be overwhelmed.