Egyptians cautious as government instigates partial return to normalcy

CAIRO: After a 90-day curfew, the Egyptian government has eased some of the precautionary measures it imposed to counter the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The government revealed on Tuesday a raft of new measures as part of its previously announced “Coexist with the virus” plan. 

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said that, starting Saturday, June 27, certain precautionary measures will be lifted, but stressed the need for the general public to remain vigilant. 

Mosques will reopen for the five daily prayers, but not for weekly or congregational prayers, such as Friday prayers, that draw bigger crowds. 

Cafés and restaurants will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity, as will sports clubs and youth centers. Beaches and parks will remain closed. 

Cultural installations and cinemas will reopen but must maintain strict safety measures including sanitation, disinfection, social distancing, and the wearing of facemasks. The government announced that anyone who violates the measures will be penalized. 

Sayed Hafez, a math teacher in a Cairo school, told Arab News that coexistence with the coronavirus is inevitable but that a return to pre-COVID “normal life” was just a matter of time. 

Hafez underlined that the Egyptian economy cannot bear further losses. “Losses resulting from the halt of all economic activities because of the coronavirus are much bigger than the losses of returning back to normal,” he said. “A huge sector of the Egyptian people is now haunted by the threat of losing everything (if) the lockdown continues.” 

Hafez added that it was vital for people to wear facemasks and maintain recommended sanitization practices to minimize infections. 

Hoda Fouad, an employee, believes that going back to normal life while the country continues to see around 1,300-1,500 new COVID-19 cases daily is “a huge mistake,” because such a step could lead to a hike in infections especially when people are longing to visit restaurants, cafes and mosques. 

“I doubt that people will implement safety measures,” Fouad told the press. “The government had previously bet on people’s awareness, lost that gamble, and even admitted it. The people will not help the government implement its coexistence plan.” 

She added that some people want to minimize their financial losses suffered during the pandemic. “Hence, they will open with full capacity and will manipulate the government’s decisions.” 

Ahmed Mubarak, a law student, mocked the government’s recent decisions. “I want to know: How is the 25-percent capacity of cafés and restaurants applicable? If somebody goes to a café, will he be told that the café is full?” he asked. “How is it possible for people to drink (safely while) wearing facemasks? How can people go to restaurants to eat while wearing facemasks? 

“What is happening is absurd. Egyptians cannot coexist with the coronavirus and there will be more infections,” Mubarak continued. “I hope that there will be no blackout during the upcoming period with regards to the number of fatalities as a way for the government to prove its point of view.” 

Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad confirmed that shops would have to close by 9 p.m. and food establishments by 10 p.m. — something he said would continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. 

“The coronavirus crisis will undoubtedly contribute to changing lifestyles on all levels,” Secretary-General of the Training and Learning Committee at the Egyptian Freedom Party Maged Talaat said.  ”Education and work will never be as they used to be. Society will change, and life will be marked by some restrictions and warnings, in addition to banning all forms of (mass) gatherings,” Talaat said. 

“The form of life the government is currently trying to create is relatively acceptable,” Talaat told journalists. “It will contribute to minimizing the chaos that existed on Egypt’s streets prior to the pandemic. However, Egyptian citizens are actually (facing) a huge test: either comply with health and safety regulations or face dire consequences.”

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