Egypt declares two-week curfew to counter coronavirus
Egypt has declared a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two weeks from Wednesday to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and those who violate the measure will be punished under emergency laws, the prime minister said.
Flights, which were suspended at Egyptian airports on 19 March until the end of the month, will remain grounded for an additional two weeks until 15 April.
Shops other than food stores and pharmacies will be required to close from 5 p.m., two hours earlier than previously, as well as at weekends.
Those who do not respect the new rules face fines of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds ($255) or prison, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a televised press briefing.
Coronavirus in the Middle East: Lock down or play down?
Countries such as Kuwait and Israel have instituted virtual lockdowns in the face of COVID-19, while religious gatherings have been limited at a time of year ripe with ritual. Others have been slower to act. By Tom Allinson
Iran bearing the brunt: with a high number of deaths and cases, Iran has been a regional epicentre of the outbreak. Several top officials have been infected and there are concerns the number of cases are higher than reported. The government has cancelled Friday prayers but health workers have complained they are under-equipped. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for emergency funding
Strict measures in Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities banned international religious pilgrims early on, leaving the Grand Mosque's Kaaba in Mecca virtually empty. Other measures have involved sanitizing streets and mosques, closing schools and universities, an extensive travel ban and fines of up to 500,000 riyals (€120,000/$133,000) for people hiding health details. It has also locked down the Shia-minority area of Qatif
Egypt restricts travel: in Cairo, hundreds of Egyptians tried to get certificates showing they have a clean bill of health after Saudi Arabia announced new travel regulations. Although Egypt has only detected a low number of cases, more than 100 tourists returning from the country tested positive for the virus. Officials have limited sermons to 15 minutes and cancelled large public gatherings
Israel and West Bank cut off from the world: gatherings of less than 100 are still allowed, leaving visits to the Wailing Wall open. But Israeli authorities have virtually halted air traffic in and out of its territory and tourists are required to self-quarantine. The city of Bethlehem has declared a state of emergency, emptying streets usually teeming ahead of Easter. Israeli researchers have said they are close to finding a COVID-19 cure
Virtual lockdown in Kuwait: as Kuwaitis kept their distance at this makeshift testing centre, the country entered a virtual lockdown, with the entire workforce given a two-week holiday from March 12. All commercial flights have been suspended from Friday on, schools have been closed and gatherings at restaurants, malls and commercial centres have been banned
In Iraq coronavirus fails to dampen protests: Iraq's protest movement has set up its own makeshift disinfection stations to counter the spread of COVID-19. Although Iraq is highly prone to the outbreak due to its proximity and close relations with Iran, protesters have been defiant, saying the government is the virus. Elsewhere authorities have closed major public spaces and religious institutions have cancelled gatherings
"I call on all Egyptians to fully comply with these measures," President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said on Twitter. "And I affirm that all elements of the Egyptian state will confront any attempts to breach them with the utmost firmness and resolution."
The number of coronavirus cases confirmed by the health ministry rose by 36 on Tuesday to 402. There was one new death, bringing the total to 20.
Senior officials have sought to reassure the public that they are able to contain coronavirus and that information on cases is being released quickly and transparently.
"Compared to surrounding countries, we are still at the stage of being able to contain the spread of the epidemic," Madbouly said.
Ahead of the briefing, state TV aired a video that highlighted strict measures taken in China to combat coronavirus, with a caption "Egypt can defeat coronavirus like China."
Later the presidency released pictures of Sisi inspecting trucks adapted by the army to carry large disinfectant sprayers and hoses.
Authorities face a challenge tackling the virus in a country of 100 million where many live in fertile areas around the Nile and public health services can be severely stretched.
In some densely populated residential districts in Cairo, daily street life has appeared largely unaffected until now, though with lighter traffic.
On social media, many criticised the government for not halting services in mosques and churches before Saturday, when that decision was announced.
Listing the latest measures, Madbouly said almost all government offices would now close their doors to the public. He urged citizens to limit movement between towns and cities, and said a measure to restrict the number of government employees going to work would be prolonged until mid-April.
Separately, the government said it was allocating one billion Egyptian pounds ($63.69 million) to the health ministry to help it provide supplies.
Like other countries, Egypt has taken steps to curtail the impact of coronavirus on the economy, including a surprise 3% interest rate cut and an injection of 20 billion Egyptian pounds to support the stock market.
Most early cases in Egypt were linked to a cruise ship on the Nile from which both foreign passengers and local crew tested positive, dealing an early blow to the country's crucial tourism sector. (Reuters)