Egypt will reopen restaurants, sporting clubs and places of worship and will abolish a nighttime curfew imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus starting Saturday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and a cabinet spokesman said on Tuesday.
In a televised briefing, Madbouly announced the easing of precautionary measures in place since March, allowing restaurants, cafes and sporting clubs to reopen at a reduced capacity of 25 percent in the first phase.
Cafes and restaurants will now be allowed to open until 10pm, while shops will be required to close at 9pm instead of the current 6pm. A shisha ban will remain in place, Madbouly said, to eliminate the risk of virus transmission.
The reopening decision came after thousands of complaints the government has received about the months-long closure of service businesses, where around 3.5 million Egyptians work, the prime minister said.
Mosques and churches will also be allowed to reopen for daily prayers and mass services as of Saturday, but will remain closed for the Muslim weekly Friday prayers and for Sunday mass, he added. Community centres as well as condolence and wedding halls attached to places of worship will remain shut nationwide.
A nighttime curfew which now runs from 8pm until 4am will be lifted starting Saturday, cabinet media adviser Hany Younes said separately.
Cinemas and theatres will also be allowed to reopen starting next week, also at a reduced capacity of 25 percent and pursuant to preventive measures, while public parks and beaches will remain shut due to fears of overcrowding, the prime minister said.
Authorities will review the measures periodically before they decide to gradually relax them further, Madbouly said, warning that "strict measures" would be imposed if citizens failed to adhere to the rules.
Egypt has so far registered 56,809 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 2,278 deaths.
Madbouly said Egypt has achieved "reasonable" success in dealing with the pandemic, in comparison with other countries which saw a surge in cases despite their strong healthcare systems.
"Keeping things under control has been our main concern given our [limited] capabilities," he said, adding that the government has so far designated over 360 hospitals, as well as tens of university hospitals and field hospitals, to handle coronavirus patients.
He stressed that the country is still capable of handling new infections, highlighting the availability of hospitals belonging to the armed forces and the police which have not been used in the country’s fight against the pandemic.
He said there had been a "very difficult phase" in the coronavirus crisis around the time of the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Fitr in May, which saw a surge in cases.
"We were aware there would be a phase when infections rise and numbers significantly increase,” he said, stressing that the main goal has been to slow the spread of the virus so the country's healthcare system could handle the cases.
Madbouly said that the main challenge has been to rein in the pandemic in the governorates of Cairo, Giza and Qalioubiya, areas he said have seen the highest numbers of cases.
He said over 50 percent of total infections and more than 60 percent of total deaths have been reported in Greater Cairo, which is spread across the three governorates and has a swelling population of more than 20 million people.
Madbouly said authorities will take all necessary legal measures against negligent medical staff in certain governorates, who he blamed for contributing to an increase in infections, without specifying which governorates.
On the shortage of medicines, Madbouly described it as "normal", blaming the problem on stockpiling of drugs by citizens, similar to the hoarding of commodities seen in the beginning of the outbreak in the country.
He said quantities that are normally sufficient for three or four months now cover a week.
“By next week, everything will be available,” Madbouly said, urging citizens to stop hoarding medicines amid the crisis.
The curfew was first introduced in March as part of a series of measures to curtail the spread of the virus and has been revised several times since. Other measures include suspending air traffic, shuttering schools and universities and banning public gatherings.
However, since June, Egypt has moved towards a gradual reopening of its economy, part of a plan to coexist with the virus.
Last week, Egypt announced it would gradually resume regular international flights, halted since March, at all its airports starting from July 1, but foreign tourists will only be allowed into three coastal governorates.
The areas that will open for foreign tourists in the first stage are South Sinai, where the popular seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh is located, the Red Sea governorate, home to the city of Hurghada, and Marsa Matrouh on the Mediterranean.
Flights will be resumed with countries that have reopened their airports, according to aviation minister Mohamed Manar.
The government has so far allowed over 250 hotels that have met safety protocols to reopen at a reduced occupancy rate of 50 percent in a bid to revive the country's key tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the virus restrictions.