Egypt in the Face of the Covid-19 Crisis: From the “Ban” to “Coexistence”

Brigadier Gen (ret) Tarek Mohamed Galal,  NESA Alumnus and Senior Researcher, Crisis & Disaster Management Dept., Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), Egyptian Cabinet

As will be explained in further detail, Egypt has started to shift from a “ban” policy to a “coexistence” policy in the fight against Covid-19.  Early on, the Egyptian government took precautions and measures to ensure a proactive response to the health crisis as part of an effort to prevent human exposure and economic loss. This necessitated adopting a policy of minimizing risks in emergency preparedness, and corresponding response and recovery programs. This was especially critical with the reported risks and threats of uncontrolled spread that all countries of the world were reporting.

Egypt adopted precautionary measures similar to those that countries facing earlier outbreaks had successfully taken, such as China. The President of Egypt directed interagency cooperation and coordination to combat the spread of the virus in the country with the goal of prioritizing the safety of citizens. As a result, the Council of Ministers issued a package of preventive and precautionary measures, during the so-called “ban” period:

  • Applied strict quarantine and isolation procedures in areas where a large number of reported cases were reported.
  • Reduced the number of workers in the state’s administrative offices and conducted deep-cleaning of government buildings, streets, the metro, trains, public transportation and places of worship.
  • Prepared and set up time lines for the establishment of field hospitals and the distribution of protective masks in public places.
  • Suspended studies in schools and universities. Suspended all social activities. Closed cinemas, theaters, and sports clubs. Stopped in-person religious meetings in mosques and churches, even during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • Imposed a curfew on the main roads. Banned the movement of citizens on all public roads during the hours of the curfew to prevent large gatherings. Suspended all public and private transportation, and partially closed commercial enterprises, with the exception of grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies.
  • Suspended all tourist activities. This suspension in tourism was accompanied by government support to the tourism sector and hotel establishments in order to meet the salaries of workers. In addition, loans were provided with 5% annual interest; real estate taxes were suspended for 6 months; and payments were postponed on all dues for 3 months without fines or late charges.
  • Suspended international air traffic at all Egyptian airports and formed a committee to address returning Egyptian expats stranded abroad.

A website was launched to present facts about the virus, including methods of spreading and prevention, and data on the numbers of infections, recovery, and deaths.  The government also published videos through social media and various other media platforms with awareness publications providing general guidelines for preventing the virus and outlining symptoms of infection. This information was also posted at entrances and exits of government buildings, and educational lectures were conducted through video conferences for school administrators, Azhar institutes, teachers, and health staff.

The Egyptian government has taken extraordinary measures and decisions to alleviate the economic ramifications of the crisis and support economic activity in all sectors. The government took a number of measures, to include: reducing the basic rates of return at the Central Bank of Egypt; postponing all credit entitlements for clients and medium and small companies for a period of 6 months; cancelling the fees and commissions applied to sales and withdrawals from ATM machines and electronic portfolios for a period of 6 months; exempting local transfers in the Egyptian pound for a period of 3 months from all commissions; setting a daily limit for withdrawals and deposits to limit cash transactions; and providing the necessary financing to import strategic goods and supporting the most affected sectors and companies. In addition, banks were provided the necessary credit limits to continue to finance the import of basic and strategic commodities, especially food commodities.

Until June 11, 2020, Egypt ranked 30th globally in terms of the number of people infected with the virus among 215 countries around the world, where the percentage of infection cases in Egypt out of the total number of reported cases globally was 0.51%. As such, it ranked 102nd globally in terms of the total number of infected people per million people (360/1 million), and ranked 184th globally in the recovery rate (26.6%). Egypt now ranks 28th globally in the total number of deaths and 77th globally in the death rate from the total number of infections (3.55%).

There is no doubt that the spread of Covid-19 has greatly impacted the Egyptian economy. In addition, it has also caused a great loss in foreign currency payments/revenues from tourism, remittances, and Suez Canal passage (a result of the decline in global trade movement). Because of the negative impact on import and export operations, the government has implemented an economic reform program to provide the financial wherewithal to deal with the long-term ramifications of the virus that will continue to impact its one hundred million citizens.

Based on the negative economic and social repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis, the Egyptian government has inaugurated the so-called plan of “coexistence” with the Coronavirus. This is an economic “Survival Campaign” aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the health crisis. By reducing the economic sector losses and restarting the wheel of production, the goal is to improve the overall economic indicators. This requires the government to balance reopening efforts with the health and safety of its citizens without any illusion of economic or development advancement at this time.

Preparing for a gradual return to normal life, the Egyptian government developed measurement standards to continue to track any spread of the virus as the economy is gradually reopened. The plan shifted the nation from a “lockdown state” to a “coexistence state” with Covid-19.  The plan is based on several major elements:

  • Determine basic requirements for the work of various facilities, institutions, and means of transportation.
  • Continue all activities of social distancing and reducing crowds with special attention to the needs of the elderly and those with chronic/preexisting diseases and conditions.
  • Spread public awareness of the need to wear face coverings to maintain public health.
  • Continue to use online applications and platforms to avoid gatherings.
  • The plan is being implemented in three stages:
    1. The “strict procedures stage”, which is currently being implemented and will continue until there is a consistent decrease in the numbers of new infected cases.
    2. The “intensity intermediate procedures stage”, which will begin with the end of the previous stage for a period of 28 days.
    3. The phase of the “reduced and continuous procedures stage”, which begins with the end of stage two and continues until the issuance of other government decisions.

The plan involves the whole of society and includes numerous required measures under the following points:

  • Places of gatherings, institutions, companies, commercial malls and markets: Cleaning and disinfection of offices 24 hours a day; reducing crowds; health assessment at entry points; providing the necessary protective supplies.
  • Construction and factories: Cleaning, disinfection, health assessment and providing the necessary protective supplies; working in shifts; segregating storage of supplies and goods; commitment to social distancing for work and movement in factories.
  • All means of transportation: Commitment to ensure individual precautionary health measures are taken to prevent crowding and reduce waiting times between vehicles (metro trains and buses); good ventilation and disinfection; require wearing of protective masks to prevent transmission of infection; applying health restrictions on public as well as private transportation.
  • Operating hotels: Applying precautionary/safety terms for hotels and tourist facilities; banning parties and entertainment in closed places; wearing protective masks; taking special measures to receive guests to maintain social distancing; adherence to spacing requirements in restaurants and reduction to 50% capacity; monitoring disease with rapid tests; considering worker requirements to ensure they are not infected or have preconditions putting them in a higher risk category.
  • General rules for establishments and businesses: Not to allow the opening of cinemas, theaters, cafes, as well as weddings, funerals and other occasions with large gatherings. Restaurants can operate on delivery services only.  Operations are suspended at universities, schools, kindergartens, nurseries, as well as fitness centers and sports clubs.
  • Continue to apply a policy of social distancing: In-person services with the public will be replaced by electronic services as much as possible and advance electronic reservations will be used for necessary in-person services to avoid crowds. Citizens are encouraged to use electronic purchasing and electronic payment services. These actions will reduce the necessary workforce up to 30%, increase outdoor parking spaces, and avoid heat exhaustion from waiting in long lines.
  • Information campaigns to raise awareness among citizens: Information is provided on how to avoid infection, recognize symptoms, and how to report cases. Preventative guidance is provided on posters distributed throughout cities encouraging safe distancing (2 meters) and wearing of face masks.
  • Reducing the spread of infection: Citizens are encouraged to avoid direct contact with infected patients; to maintain proper ventilation; to use hand sanitizers and napkins; to maintain proper social distancing; and to properly cover sneezes and coughs.
  • Surveillance at facilities: Temperatures will be taken, as well as isolation areas for symptomatic individuals suffering from respiratory symptoms or high temperature.
  • Publish home isolation procedures and guidelines to citizens in accordance with the World Health Organization.

We must understand that life will not return to pre-Corona standards for a long time. Rather, the “new normal” will be accompanied by a set of procedures and controls to protect the health of the population, increase awareness of citizens on preventive health measures, to include social distancing, remote working, and increasing e-government. These procedures, at a minimum, must be followed to ensure the health and safety of the population until a successful vaccine is discovered and widely available.

In the meantime, the importance and necessity of sharing knowledge, science, and technology is critical. Covid-19 has taught us that the people of the world are all part of a small interconnected village where a pandemic virus recognizes no manmade borders.  Solidarity, collaboration, and cooperation among people of all nationalities is the only way to preserve the human race.

A couple of questions to consider as we move forward:

  1. Will the outbreak of (Covid-19) reshape social life and the way of thinking and coexistence between nations?
  2. Will the human and economic costs force countries to reprioritize health and environmental security issues above those of hard security and defense?

The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.