Cairo, Egypt, Mar 24 – Egypt will impose a night-time curfew for two weeks from Wednesday to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli announced.
“Movement will be banned on all public roads from 7 pm to 6 am… for two weeks,” Madbouli told a news conference on Tuesday.
“All mass transport, public and private, will be halted over the same period.”
Penalties for violators include a fine of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (just over $250) and even prison, he said.
The prime minister said central and provincial government services, including the issuing of licences, would be suspended for two weeks.
He said that malls and shops selling more than basic goods would be allowed to open until 5 pm on work days but would be required to close over the Friday-Saturday weekend.
Cafes and nightclubs would be closed, while restaurants and other food outlets would be allowed to offer delivery services only.
Bakeries, grocery stores, pharmacies and supermarkets outside malls would be exempted.
Cairo supermarket owner Sayed Hamdan was supportive of the government’s curfew and was upbeat that economic activity would not slow down.
“This decision is wise for the people in general. As supermarket owners, it’s not going to affect us as much. People will just end up buying during the day instead of at night and it might even increase because people are afraid of the coronavirus,” he told AFP.
“We have undertaken sterilisation measures for our workers and the store itself using gloves, disinfectants and masks,” Hamdan added.
He also noted that he had enough stock for his customers who gravitated towards staples like oil, sugar and bottled water.
The health ministry has so far registered 19 deaths from the coronavirus in Egypt out of 366 confirmed cases.
The government has already closed schools and universities and halted air traffic in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus among the country’s 100 million people.
Flights have been grounded for a further period until 15 April, Egypt’s information minister announced Tuesday, following the prime minister’s new conference.
Religious authorities have since Saturday shut all mosques and churches and halted prayer gatherings for at least two weeks.
– Demonstrations –
Madbouli said the government might impose stricter measures if the situation worsened and the number of confirmed cases topped 1,000.
He condemned calls for demonstrations saying they provided fertile ground for the transmission of the virus.
Early Tuesday, police moved promptly to disperse dozens of demonstrators who had attempted to hold overnight marches in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria.
Footage posted on Twitter showed marchers chanting: “God is greatest,” and: “May God rescue us from this plague.”
They were “dispersed in accordance with government measures preventing gatherings to avoid contagion”, a security source told AFP, adding that no arrests were made.
Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s institution for issuing religious edicts, condemned such protests as “malicious” and “forbidden” under Islamic law.
The institution urged Egyptians to comply with government measures against the spread of the virus.
Protests have effectively been banned in Egypt since 2013 and the country has been under a state of emergency since April 2017.
In a series of tweets after the prime minister’s announcement, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his government will be strict in its enforcement of the curfew.
“Any breaking of the measures will be dealt with firmly and swiftly according to the law,” he said.
In Sayeda Zeinab, a working class suburb in the heart of Islamic Cairo, Akram Ramadan also expressed relief at the premier’s measures and was critical of the small scale gathering in Alexandria.
“People aren’t heeding the message and they’re still out and about in the streets…These are people who are trying to ruin the country and we can’t put up with this anymore,” he said.
“I myself am going out shopping now before night-time… we should be considerate of others and not hoard items,” Ramadan added.