Expect higher COVID-19 numbers, but don’t be alarmed, PM Madbuly says
A member of medical team is seen beside a banner for the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as he sprays disinfectant as a precautionary move amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the underground Al Shohadaa "Martyrs" metro station in Cairo, Egypt March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Egypt saw its biggest daily increase in the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. The government warns that figures will rise in the coming days, but will not necessarily spike in a way that will necessitate further measures and a “third phase” of confrontation with the disease. The Ministry of Health announced 86 new coronavirus cases on Thursday night, bringing the total to 865, and 58 deaths.

In a televised press conference earlier on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly warned the public of an increasing number of new cases per day in the coming days, but said that these increases should not be concerning as long as they are gradual. “We are still in a moderate phase, where the virus is not spreading widely … We have to work together to stay in this stage,” he said.

In the past few weeks officials have reiterated warnings that, if the number of coronavirus cases reaches 1,000, Egypt will enter what the government refers to as a “third stage” of measures to combat the spread of the virus. (The first having been the suspension of schools, and the second, the curfew). Major General Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, the Cabinet’s head of crisis management, said in a live telephone call on the television program Al Hayat Al Youm on Wednesday that if the number of cases reached 1,000 they could “easily jump to 2,500 in one day,” and implored people to stay home. 

According to Abdel Maqsoud, the third phase would include the broad utilization of university hospitals, schools and hotels to treat patients. 

Health Minister Hala Zayed asked private hospitals to allocate a number of isolated beds on Wednesday, after several hospitals turned away patients with respiratory illnesses, leading to a swell of patients with various illnesses at hospitals designated to deal with COVID-19 patients. Alaa Abdel Magid, head of the private healthcare chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, told Al Borsa newspaper following a meeting with Zayed that the private sector was ready to comply with what was needed. 

Egyptians wishing to fly back to the country on repatriation flights that the government is organizing will have to sign a written agreement that they will enter quarantine upon their return before being permitted to board, according to statements from the Emigration Ministry and the Health Ministry. This applies to those who returned starting Tuesday, March 31 on repatriation flights from London and Paris, and will apply to all other repatriation flights. 

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered money from the Tahya Masr Fund be allocated to cover the costs of the returnees’ quarantines, which are located in hotels including Cairo’s Meridien and Novotel hotels.  The decision came shortly after Egyptians returning on special flights from Kuwait refused to enter quarantine. Several reports suggested their objection was due to the fact that they would be required to pay for accommodation during their stay in quarantine

Meanwhile, tourists currently in Egypt will be allowed to extend their visas under the condition that they undergo testing for the virus, according to Tourism Ministry sources cited in Youm 7. 

Tourism has been hit hard by the pandemic. Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anany called on business owners not to fire staff and announced a hotline for employees to call in case of dismissal. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Madbuly urged construction operations to continue at “maximum capacity” at all sites, adding that the construction sector is tied to 90 other industries, according to the privately-owned financial paper Al Mal on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the government announced that LE3.8 billion would be paid in dues owed to contractors working on government projects so they can pay laborers. 

According to government estimates, the construction sector makes up 16 percent of the country’s GDP and employs up to 20 percent of the country’s workforce, and studies estimate that it employs up to 40 percent of the country’s informal laborers. Over 1.3 million informal laborers signed up to receive the one-time 500LE payment offered by the Labor Ministry to ease financial hardship for a sector particularly hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic. The government had originally estimated that only 400,000 people would sign up.  

Last week, the government also announced safety measures to be implemented to protect the construction workers, including taking their temperatures, avoiding shared meals, and training sessions on safety, according to reports on a meeting between the prime minister, the housing minister, and the heads of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority and the Egyptian Federation for Construction and Building Contractors.

Orascom Construction, which is leading the construction of the new cabinet building in the new administrative capital, asked its contractors for lists of workers on Tuesday, in a message obtained by Mada Masr. The lists are needed “in order to house [workers] in the camp at the Defense Ministry building project because no external labor will be allowed in as of April 1st for a one month period,” the message states. “This is in accordance with instructions given by the Armed Forces Engineering Authority.” 

Construction of the cabinet building was halted by Orascom on March 25, and worker presence was limited to maintenance and emergency crews. Building was due to resume on Wednesday, according to an internal company memo viewed by Mada Masr, but the company then notified contractors that work will resume on Saturday, April 4, to allow sufficient time to provide necessary resources.

The Chairman of the Administrative Capital Company For Urban Development, Ahmed Zaky Abdeen, said on March 23 that no building projects were halted but the numbers of workers had been halved in various locations to curb the spread of the virus.

The government’s plan, announced before the outbreak, was to move employees to the new capital later this year. 


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