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Egypt considers easing coronavirus lockdown measures ahead of Ramadan

Muslims are bracing for a bleak month of Ramadan fasting amid the coronavirus pandemic [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2020

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Egypt's coronavirus committee will meet to make a final decision on whether to continue the lockdown restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan.
Egypt is considering loosening its coronavirus lockdown restrictions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time that usually sees large gatherings.

Egypt's coronavirus committee will meet on Wednesday to make a final decision on whether to continue or adjust the country's curfew during the month of Ramadan, The New Arab's Arabic language service reported

The Coronavirus Epidemic Crisis Management Committee is debating whether to extend the curfew and keep shops, restaurants and other places where crowds gather closed or ease the restrictions.

Sources in the Council of Ministers suggested to The New Arab that the curfew hours may be reduced. This will see the curfew start at 9 or 10pm rather than the current start time of 8pm. 

The change would be implemented to reduce congestion on the streets of Cairo and public transportation, the sources said, particularly during the period between the end of the working day and the evening prayer.

Any changes in the restrictions will not see places of worship re-open, the sources said, and cafes, restaurants and Ramadan tents will remain closed.

A police source told The New Arab that the details of the curfew's restrictions during Ramadan were not delivered formally until Tuesday evening. He said there were indications that restrictions would be "eased in different sectors soon".

The source added that recruits and officers had been granted leave for the first time in a month-and-a-half, except in provinces that have recorded high rates of coronavirus infection.

The police source said the ministry of interior took this step after the army allowed soldiers and officers to leave their camps.

Ramadan rituals

From cancelled iftar feasts to suspended mosque prayers, Muslims across the Middle East are bracing for a bleak month of Ramadan fasting as the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic lingers

Every year during Ramadan, long tables in Egypt's city streets dish up meals at sunset for the poor to break their daily fast.

These "Tables of the Compassionate" have been barred under coronavirus restrictions. Many residents of Cairo's impoverished areas will struggle without this charity.

So mosques, which have had to shut its doors as a precaution against the virus, will use the funds that would have gone into the free communal tables to distribute packed meals and cash to those in need.

As Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week, Muslims around the world are trying to maintain the cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month without further spreading the outbreak.

Egypt has recorded 3,490 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 264 deaths but government critics and epidemiologists have raised concerns over those figures.

Authorities have been testing an average of just 900 people a day. Experts believe widespread random and targeted testing is necessary to build a clear picture of the virus' spread.

However, the daily number of tests has increased over the past week to more than 1,000, a source in the health ministry told The New Arab. The rising number of tests is due to increased testing among health professionals and the arrival of medical supplies from China, they added.

Egypt's coronavirus peak

An internal government report suggested Egypt will reach its peak number of coronavirus deaths at the end of Ramadan in mid-May.

The report prepared by the security and health services examines the existing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths and assesses the impact of restrictions placed on movement. The document, seen by The New Arab's Arabic-language service, was prepared for the government's Coronavirus Epidemic Crisis Management Committee.

It states Egypt is not expected to hit its coronavirus peak until the third week of May, which will coincide with the end of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr festival.

Read more: As coronavirus spreads in Egypt, Sisi puts the truth on lockdown

Egyptian
 President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier this month stated that the financial losses from the shutdown would be worse than those resulting from the Covid-19 illness.

In late March, Cairo imposed a nighttime curfew which is set to come to a close on 23 April, around the expected start of the Muslim holy month.

Some members of the Coronavirus Epidemic Crisis Management Committee favour abolishing the curfew but continuing the prevention of gatherings in mosques and cafes during Ramadan.

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