Egypt has announced it will gradually reopen for international tourism beginning on 1 July, although visiting tourists will initially only be allowed in resort towns on the Red Sea coast.
Despite government and economic pressure on the country’s tourism sector to ready hotels across the country, the drive to reopen and invite visitors has prompted doubts from observers as Egypt is still in the throws of the pandemic.
The country shut its airports on 19 March when Covid-19 cases began to rise, a blow to the vital tourism sector which makes up roughly 11% of GDP. Egypt’s national carrier, Egyptair lost $3bn in revenue due to the flight suspension, according to the country’s minister for civil aviation.
The initial centre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Egypt was also linked to tourism, when passengers on Nile cruise ships in the southern city of Luxor tested positive for the virus, and increasing numbers of tourists tested positive on their return home from Egypt.
Officials have promised a raft of new measures to prevent the spread of the virus for visiting tourists, including forcing incoming travellers to sign a declaration that they are free of infection, as well as submitting a record of a PCR test.
Passengers will also be required to socially distance when queuing and on board flights. Officials have said hotels must operate at half their capacity, after raising this from 25% earlier this month, a move intended to help curb infections.
Yet there’s plenty to suggest that Egypt remains far from flattening the curve. The country has recorded 44,598 positive cases and confirmed infections continue to rise each day. Egypt also recorded 91 deaths yesterday, the highest in a single day so far.
The Egyptian minister for higher education and scientific research has said the number of cases in Egypt could be five to even ten times higher than official estimates.
Elsewhere, the country’s central laboratory, overseen by the health ministry, revealed that just 300,000 PCR tests have been conducted. Patients have been diagnosed using other means, although their results were not added to the official count.
Even as the country has dealt with a sharp spike in case numbers, Egyptian government officials have increasingly spoken of a need to “coexist” with Covid-19 and sought to relax what little restrictions existed.
This weekend saw a gradual lifting of existing rules, including shortening a night-time curfew and an extension to business hours for shops. The Egyptian cabinet is also debating allowing mosque and church congregations to return for prayers at the start of July.