Egypt announced on Monday it is suspending all flights to and from its airports, despite reassurances that the effect of the virus will not grapple with the country’s day-to-day life as its spread continues to take its toll on a dozen countries.
On Monday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced in a press conference the suspension of all flights at Egyptian airports from 19 to 31 March.
“This stage requires we take more preventive measures to halt the spread of the virus,” Madbouly said, adding that the move aims to reduce mingling between travellers to and from Egypt.
Monday’s announcement comes as the country accelerates its preventive measures with the number of detected cases continuing to rise since a coronavirus cluster emerged at a Nile cruiser earlier this month.
At least 166 cases have been detected in Egypt since the outbreak last December, according to the health ministry, with the death toll rising to four.
FILE PHOTO: Tourists take Luxor-bound EgyptAir flight from Cairo International Airport in Cairo, Egypt October 9, 2019. Picture taken October 9, 2019.(Reuters)
Despite the suspension of flights, Madbouly said visitors in the country would still be allowed to continue their tourist programmes and leave according to their scheduled dates of travel.
“These decisions would have economic implications and losses incurred by the state… for the sake of preserving the life of its citizens. We are trying to save the lives of the nation,” he said.
Losses by the aviation sector’s companies are forecast at over EGP 2.25 billion ($142.8 billion), Madbouly said, affirming the state is ready to face any possible danger.
“Of course the tourism sector will see losses too,” he said, adding that in the next two weeks hotels and tourist facilities will be sterilised.
The statements came nearly a week after Egypt stressed that its touristic sites were seeing a boom in the number of visitors, reassuring visiting tourists despite worries over the spread of the virus in the past days.
The number of tourists at Luxor’s Karnak Temple has increased in comparison to last year, tourism officials said last week.
The move is expected to be a major blow to Egypt’s tourism sector, which has seen a brief revival in the last few years after it had suffered major hits, including a Russian airliner crash in 2015 the impacts of which drained the industry.
In the wake of the Russian airliner crisis, several European countries suspended flights to Egypt, mainly to the touristic cities of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, calling for upped security measures at airports.
Enhanced measures led to the reinstating of flights, mainly British flights to the touristic hubs last year, bringing Egypt closer to breathing in relief for the revival of its industry.
Egypt’s tourism revenues rose in fiscal year (FY) 2018/2019 to $12.5 billion, the highest in the sector since the 2011 uprising, and up from $9.8 billion in FY 2017/2018, recording a growth rate of 28.2 percent.
The country received11.3 million tourists in 2018, up from 5.3 million in 2016, with the figure still far off the 14.7 million recorded in 2010.
It’s unclear how the new restrictions will affect the key pillar of foreign currency in the country.
However, tourism and antiquities minister Khaled El-Anany estimated on Monday that losses would amount to $1 billion a month mostly after the fresh measures.
A combination picture shows students walking past a building at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt February 12, 2020 and the university seen almost empty following government efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus March 15, 2020. (Reuters)
Egypt closed schools and universities for two weeks, starting 15 March, as the country detected coronavirus cases among students. The decision is part of the country's comprehensive plan to deal with any possible repercussions of the novel coronavirus.
El-Sisi also decided to allocate EGP 100 billion ($6.3 billion) to finance the comprehensive plan and the precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Since the decision, the interior ministry had swept the nation to ensure that all educational institutions, and mainly private tutoring centres, were closed, warning of swift legal measures against violators.
Working from home
Madouly issued a decree on slashing workforce for employees in the state apparatuses nationwide.
The 15-day decree would aim to limit intermingling between citizens and employees, he said, adding that strategic and main sectors’ employees are exempted from the decision.
The exempted sectors include transportation, hospitals, ambulances, sanitation services and electricity.
The decree stipulates that employees whose work nature would allow them to work remotely work from home.
Other employees would carry out duties alternately daily or weekly, it added.
The decree also stipulates that any employee diagnosed with chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and others, are given exceptional leave as the decree remains in effect.
Pregnant female employees or those caring for a child younger than 12 years are given also an exceptional leave.
Other decisions include giving employees returning from abroad an exceptional leave.
All exceptional leaves are paid and are not deducted from given vacations, it said.
Several companies have already asked most of their employees to work from home, in an attempt to limit the possibility of contamination.
Shisha, social and cultural activities
While Egypt has not yet imposed a lockdown nationwide to stem the pandemic, a ban on shisha (water pipe) in restaurants, coffee shops and public places was imposed in a number of governorates, mainly Cairo and Giza.
Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal's statement read that “places in violation of the decision will be shut down immediately."
Several restaurants already announced they had stopped serving shisha prior to the governor’s decision.
Others, including bars, said they would be cancelling their scheduled gigs and events after a decision last week banning large gatherings until further notice.
Egypt's culture ministry announced the suspension of cultural activities with large public gatherings until further notice. The Cairo Opera House has also cancelled scheduled performances.
Sports activities have also seen strict measures, with sports events, mainly football games, suspended nationwide for two weeks following in the footsteps of the UK, Italy, Spain and others.
Gyms nationwide have also been shut down, with various indoors and outdoors sports facilities closing down as per the state’s orders.
Many sports facilities have resorted to social media to help users continue working out at home, sending them daily workouts to follow to ensure that they remain active.
A general view of City Star, Egypt's largest mall, in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
As preventive measures upped, shoppers have stockpiled at groceries and supermarkets in many areas, with panic-buying sweeping stores despite calls for responsible shopping.
Pictures emerged on social media showing shoppers stockpiling at major supermarkets, amid calls for the population to shop responsibly to help maintain the prices and reassurances that all commodities are available for consumption.
PM Madbouly called on citizens to abstain from such practices, stressing that Egypt has commodities available for the upcoming months.
He also affirmed firmness against any practices by those who raise the prices of commodities without justification.
On Sunday, Egypt’s supply ministry said its wheat reserves were sufficient for 3.6 months, with reserves of rice and sugar enough to last 4.7 and 7.3 months, respectively.
“Again, please, take the matter seriously during this period, because despite an increase in the number of infections in the country, it’s still not the same as other countries,” Madbouly urged citizens.