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Monday, 18 May 2020

Egypt faces stricter lockdown measures for the week of Eid El Fitr before phase 1 of gov’t reopening plan comes into effect

Egypt faces stricter lockdown measures for the week of Eid El Fitr, then a gradual loosening in June: Egypt will be under a 5pm-6am curfew and all shops will be closed next week as the Madbouly government enforces tighter restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus that causes covid-19. Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly announced the measures at a press conference yesterday, saying they would be in effect from Sunday, 24 May (the presumptive first day of Eid) until Friday, 29 May (watch, runtime: 14:53). The full list of decisions is here, and Reuters also has the story.

The nighttime curfew will run from 5pm until 6am next week, although Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad told late-night maven Lamees El Hadidi (watch, runtime: 23:56) that factory workers will be exempt in a bid to limit the impact on factory output. Food deliveries can also continue past curfew hours.

Stores, restaurants and public spaces will be closed. The measures — which are akin to those the government imposed during the Sham El Nessim holiday last month — include a complete shutdown of all malls, shops, restaurants, public parks, and beaches.

Supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to open as will beaches on hotel properties that have reopened and that comply with Health Ministry standards, Saad told Lamees.

Public transportation will also be suspended entirely, particularly as the government looks to curb movement between governorates during the holiday. Saad, however, told state TV host Wael El-Ibrachy that the suspension will not include microbuses (watch, runtime 19:17. There do not appear to be restrictions on the movement of personal vehicles between governorates.

Everyone will be expected to wear face masks in “any closed space” starting 30 May, the PM said, which we’re taking as including government buildings, private offices, malls and retail outlets. People will also need to wear masks when using buses, the metro, trains, taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem, Madbouly said. Folks choosing not to wear masks could face legal penalties once masks are “available for everyone,” Saad added. The Health Ministry will coordinate the manufacture of cloth face masks at a cost of as little as EGP 5 each that are reusable for up to a month, Saad told El-Ibrachy.

So, when is Eid, exactly? Madbouly didn’t say other than to note that it likely begins on Sunday, but Saad told Lamees that government and other public-sector employees will have the full week off. Cabinet will make it official with a decree today, Saad said.

The Manpower Ministry is expected to announce today how long the holiday will run for the private sector — we expect it to be Sunday-Tuesday.

Eid prayers will be broadcast from inside El Sayeda Nafisa Mosque, as mosques around the country remain closed. Mosques will only be allowed to recite takbeer el Eid through speakers.

Once Eid week is over, we’re back to the same basic set of restrictions as were in place before Ramadan, with the measures being in place until mid-June. This phase, which officially begins on Saturday, 30 May will run for two weeks, Madbouly suggested, and includes allowing shops and malls to open for part of the day and restaurants to operate as they did during Ramadan, (around-the-clock delivery + allowing customers to place takeaway orders in-store). The nighttime curfew will again be shortened to run from 8pm until 6am (one hour longer than at present).

One note: The Health Ministry has pulled from its website a three-phase reopening plan it released last week. Al Dostor is reporting that it has done so because Cabinet is reviewing the document.

In mid-June, the government will allow houses of worship and some leisure activities to gradually reopen. Churches and mosques will be allowed to have limited prayers and ceremonies, Madbouly said. What’s on offer and when will be announced later, he added. The government will also begin gradually allowing sporting clubs and restaurants to reopen in full, provided they follow specific precautions that will also be outlined at a later date.

Thanaweya Amma exams will begin on 21 June, but students will have the option to postpone sitting the exams until next year, Education Minister Tarek Shawki said at the press conference yesterday. Students who do choose to sit for this year’s exams will be required to maintain safe physical distances within the testing rooms, which will also be rearranged to hold fewer students than normal.

Graduating university seniors will sit their final exams starting 1 July, Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdel Ghafar said.

Madbouly didn’t say when Egypt plans to reopen its airspace to regularly scheduled international commercial flights. The flight ban, which has been extended multiple times and was due to expire on Saturday, has been extended for up to two more weeks along with other measures designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Look for an announcement “in the first half of June … on a timeline for the resumption of flights and the precautionary measures that will accompany it,” Saad told Lamees last night, noting that, “sooner or later, flights will resume, particularly as we see European and Asian countries planning to reopen their airspace.”

EgyptAir seems to be taking bookings for next month. The online booking feature on national flag carrier EgyptAir’s website shows round-trip flights to several cities available as of 1 June. The carrier has not said when flights will resume, but we understand that aircrew are being told to expect to be in the air once again in June.

We found flights available yesterday from Cairo to London, Washington, New York, Paris, Dubai, Jeddah, Montreal, Amsterdam, and Casablanca, among others. Flight aggregator Expedia also automatically sets 1 June as the first available flight leaving Egypt. Flights to Beijing, Moscow, Athens, and Vienna, among others, will be available as of 2 June, while a Toronto flight is scheduled for 6 June, with return flights available as of this morning on 11 and 13 June.

There are no flights yet available to Frankfurt, Dublin or Tokyo.

Worth remembering: Unless the requirement is amended after Cabinet review, the Health Ministry foresees incoming tourists being required to produce the results of a PCR test completed 48 hours before they embarked on their flights. There has been no official word on whether travelers arriving in June would still face a 14-day quarantine as is presently the case.

The national flag carrier said yesterday it’s cutting by 10% the salaries of its highest paid employees from May’s paychecks due to the covid-19’s heavy toll on its business, Reuters’ Arabic service reported. This came a day after the government said it could extend a EGP 2 bn lifeline to see the airline through until the flight ban is lifted.

What are other airlines doing? Emirates is operating one-way outbound flights to nine cities — including London, Paris, Milan, Chicago, and Sydney — between this Thursday, 21 May and 30 June. British Airways’ travel information allows travelers who have flights booked up until 31 July to reschedule their tickets or claim a refund, but does not indicate whether this is the date it intends to resume air traffic. Turkish Airlines will resume flights on 28 May.

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