Egypt’s prime minister has promised to use the “utmost force” over the upcoming holiday if Egyptians disregard coronavirus measures.
Mostafa Madbouly instructed authorities to “deter any attempt to violate the decisions with the utmost force.”
On 20 April Egyptians will celebrate Sham El-Nessim, a national holiday which marks the beginning of Spring, traditionally by picnicking in the parks with their families. On 19 April, Egypt’s Copts will celebrate Easter.
The Egyptian government has recently extended a curfew across the country from 8pm to 6am and closed restaurants, cafes, shops and schools and universities and urged the country to practice social distancing in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Madbouly has said that shops and malls, which currently have to close by 5pm on weekdays and are not open at all over the weekend, will be shut completely over the spring break. Street vendors are banned from downtown Cairo.
The government has ordered the closure of parks, squares and beaches – any public places it is thought citizens may gather.
A number of photographs have circulated of Egyptians out on the street and crowded into the metro and trains in defiance of the guidelines. Markets are still buzzing in many parts of the country.
At a recent press conference held by the Ministry of Health crowds of journalists attended without taking any precautionary measures or observing social distancing.
The government has taken some controversial measures to enforce its measures, including blockading several villages by setting up checkpoints at the entrances and exits to stop people leaving. Residents, desperate to work in the absence of government support, have protested and asked that the blockade be lifted.
Egyptian activists have criticised the government for handing out large numbers of fines and accused them of using it as a way to collect money, particularly since people leaving the house to buy basic goods have been fined.
Authorities have stipulated 4,000 egyptian pounds ($253) and even prison for violators, whilst activists say they are more interested in creating an industry of fear than curbing the virus.
Egypt has officially confirmed 2,505 cases of COVID-19 and 183 deaths, though Canadian researchers caused a furore last month when they put the figure closer to 20,000.
Egypt is keen to protect its revenue from the tourism industry and foreign investors and has kept announced figures low so as not to scare people away.