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Saturday, 17 April 2021

Reopening Egypt's economy: The new normal

Like many countries, Egypt reopened its economy this week.

Ahmed Morsy , Thursday 2 Jul 2020
People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk in downtown Cairo, Egypt May 31, 2020. (photo: Reuters)
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On 27 June, more than three months after they were imposed, Egypt began lifting many of the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. Egypt has lost LE125 billion in revenue during the last three months as a result of the closure Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said during an interview with state-owned Channel 1 on Monday.

It is essential we develop ways to coexist with the virus given no economy can bear the continued costs of closure, Maait said.

Countries around the world are reopening their economies after having implemented unprecedented measures to suppress transmission and slow down the spread of the virus.

“A coexistence scenario is necessary to enable citizens to earn a living. Without it the state will not have any revenues and an economic depression will occur. It is essential Egypt return to work, production, and growth again,” said Maait.

Egypt’s 2019-2020 GDP growth rate is likely to come in at four per cent, down from a pre-pandemic estimate of 5.6 per cent, Maait said.

Driven by economic concerns, the cabinet began on Saturday to life restrictions in place since March. Cafes, cinemas, restaurants and gyms have all been allowed to reopen provided they adhere to a 25 per cent occupancy limit.

The night-time curfew has been cancelled, though the public has been told to keep wearing facemasks and maintain social distancing.

Mosques have been also allowed to host the daily prayers since Saturday, though Friday prayers continue to be banned to avoid crowding. The reopening of churches in Cairo and Alexandria, however, has been delayed until mid-July by the Coptic Orthodox Church due to “high infection rates”.

The Justice Ministry announced that all courts, the ministry’s general bureau and all affiliated departments, including forensic medicine and registry offices, fully resumed work at the beginning of this week.

On 1 July Egypt opened selected destinations to international air traffic. Foreign tourists are allowed to visit three coastal governorates - South Sinai, the Red Sea and Marsa Matrouh. Arrivals have been exempted from visa fees until the end of October in an attempt to boost the ailing tourism sector.

Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Anani said on Monday that 400 hotels nationwide have received health safety certificates allowing them to reopen and receive tourists at 50 per cent capacity.

Since the reopening of the country Egypt’s record of new cases in a single day, 1774 recorded on 19 June, has remained unbroken, with the daily toll swinging between 1,600 and 1,100. On Monday, the total number of infections reached 66,754 since the detection of the first case on 14 February, and the number of fatalities rose to 2,872.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said last week that the occupancy rate in designated coronavirus quarantine hospitals is 59 per cent, and 71 per cent in ICUs.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated field and isolation hospitals at Cairo’s International Exhibition Centre with a total capacity of 4,000 beds on Saturday, creating more space should Egypt see a surge in cases.

The facilities include four isolation halls, each with a capacity of 700 beds, and five field hospitals, with surgery theatres and 40 ICU beds.

Earlier this month, the government announced that the number of hospitals designated to deal with coronavirus cases had risen to 376 from 340.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has begun directing more attention to patients with underlying health conditions as it implements a presidential initiative launched on 21 June to treat chronic disease. On 25 June the Health Minister said 122 medical centres and 33 mobile medical convoys in eight governorates are taking part in the initiative.‬

Al-Negelah isolation hospital, Egypt’s first designated hospital for coronavirus cases, will stop receiving COVID-19 patients and will instead return to normal operation in all medical specialties.

Marking the sixth month of the pandemic, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom said on Monday that most people remain susceptible to infection and the coronavirus has a lot of room to move.

“We all want COVID-19 to be over and to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is: this is not even close to being over,” Adhanom said during a media briefing. He added that the pandemic “is actually speeding up”.

The WHO chief estimated a few days earlier that the current infection rate is one million new cases a week worldwide. In his speech Adhanom said the world has 10 million confirmed cases and more than half a million people have lost their lives worldwide.

“The critical question that all countries will face in the coming months is how to live with the virus. This is the new normal.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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