CAIRO, June 28, (AP): Egypt on Saturday lifted many restrictions put in place against the coronavirus pandemic, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms and theaters after more than three months of closure, despite a continued upward trend in new infections.
Authorities also allowed the limited reopening of mosques and churches, and lifted the nighttime curfew. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has been keen to save the Egyptian economy that was hit hard by the virus outbreak. On Friday, the International Monetary Fund approved another $5.2 billion loan for Egypt, to be added to the $2.8 billion the fund had already promised to stave off the pandemic’s worst economic effects. Before the pandemic, Egypt had just emerged from a three-year economic reform program that came with securing a $12 billion IMF loan in late 2016.
In Cairo, a sprawling and bustling metropolis of some 20 million people, coffee shops reopened to receive in-house customers for the first time since mid-March. But “sheesha,” the hookah water pipe so popular in the Middle East, are no longer offered widely over sanitary concerns. Cafes have been allowed to reopen at only 25 percent seating capacity, according to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly.
Mosques and churches will also not be allowed to hold their weekly main services, when large crowds traditionally gather for worship. The government has banned Friday’s Muslim prayers at mosques and Sunday masses at churches, Madbouly said. Wearing face masks, worshipers Saturday poured into mosques for the fajr, dawn, prayers, for the first time in months. “People were looking forward to that day,” Reda el-Sayed said, the prayer leader of a mosque in Giza. “They miss the mosques.”