Egypt Agrees $5.2bn Aid Package – IMF

 

An IMF team has agreed on a one-year, $5.2 billion financing package for Egypt.

This will help the country alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund announced Friday.

The IMF board must still approve the financing from the fund’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), which allows nations to circumvent the lengthy negotiations usually needed to secure a full economic assistance program — time most countries do not have as they struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

IMF Approves $2.77bn Emergency COVID-19 Loan For Egypt

) In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The IMF board approved $2.77 billion in emergency aid for Egypt on Monday, to help the country deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but said the government will need more financial help.

The country had seen a “remarkable turnaround” prior to the COVID-19 shock, under a fund-supported economic reform program, but that progress is now threatened, the IMF said in a statement.

The emergency funding will help finance “targeted and temporary spending, aimed at containing and mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic,” First Deputy Managing Director Geoffrey Okamoto said.

However, he cautioned that Cairo will need “additional expeditious support from multilateral and bilateral creditors … to close the remaining balance of payments gap, ease the adjustment burden, and preserve Egypt’s hard-won macroeconomic stability.”

The emergency funds come from the Washington-based crisis lender’s Rapid Financing Instrument, which has been ramped up to get aid quickly to developing nations most vulnerable to the economic effects of shutdowns to contain the outbreak.

IMF Managing Director Kristina Georgieva said the fund has received over 100 requests for aid from its members, and that developing countries will need about $2.5 trillion to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. Last week the fund said it had approved 50 such loans.

Egypt has suffered over 500 COVID-19 fatalities with nearly 10,000 cases, according to John’s Hopkins University’s tally.

The country has gradually started to reopen after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has loosened a strict curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to kickstart North Africa’s largest economy.

Having shuttered shops and cafes in late March and forced millions of civil servants to stay home, it is slowly reversing some of these measures, bringing back many state workers and extending the trading hours of shops and malls.

 

AFP

Egypt Reopens Slowly To Revive Pandemic-hit Economy

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a view of Bab el-Louk square, one of the generally busy areas near the Egyptian capital Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the central downtown district, almost empty on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP.

 

Egypt’s economy had just started to recover after years of political turmoil and militant attacks when the coronavirus crisis hit, impacting especially its vital tourism sector.

Now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has loosened a strict curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an effort to kickstart North Africa’s largest economy.

Having shuttered shops and cafes in late March and forced millions of civil servants to stay home, it is slowly reversing some of these measures, bringing back many state workers and extending the trading hours of shops and malls.

The blessing for the emerging economy of more than 100 million people, experts say, is that activity has kept ticking over in agriculture and construction, and especially in the vast informal sector.

“Twenty-five percent of the workforce is in agriculture, which remains unaffected,” said Angus Blair, a business professor at the American University in Cairo.

“Many other businesses continue to remain open, albeit with reduced staff, and construction is continuing.”

Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency have been tourism, remittances sent home from workers abroad, and Suez Canal revenues — which have all dropped sharply during the global lockdown in travel and trade.

But more than half of Egypt’s private sector is made up of the so-called informal economy — ranging from streetside fruit sellers to day labourers on construction sites to one-man auto repair businesses.

READ ALSO: Russia Records Over 10,000 New COVID-19 Cases For Fourth Day In Row

Around four million workers make up this shadow economy comprised of low-paid irregular labourers.

“The large informal sector, while finding conditions slower, will continue to function,” predicted Blair.

– Slow growth, fewer jobs –

The challenge is huge for Egypt, where nearly a third of people live below the poverty line, many more face precarious conditions and social order has traditionally been maintained by a strict military apparatus.

Slow growth and fewer jobs may have “a temporary impact on poverty rates in the country”, warned Alia El-Mahdi, former dean of Cairo University’s faculty of economics and political science.

“The state must encourage the private sector on a macroeconomic scale so that it can overcome the crisis.”

The Sisi government approved a 100 billion pound ($6 billion) aid package to stem the fallout of the coronavirus, which has caused 400 deaths and nearly 7,000 infections according to official data.

This included payments of 500 pounds a month to informal workers who lack any social insurance to fall back on.

Cairo also sought a fresh loan from the International Monetary Fund last month and cut its interest rates in March to encourage lending for individuals and businesses.

The biggest cash-cow, tourism, has however taken a heavy blow as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered travel worldwide.

It was all the more painful after the country famed for the Pyramids, Nile river cruises and Red Sea resorts had last year booked tourism revenues topping $12.6 billion, the highest in a decade.

– Deserted beach resorts –

Mahmoud al-Dabaa, a travel agent in the popular seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said he was shocked at how the once bustling travel destination had turned into a ghost town with deserted beaches.

“It’s the first time I see Sharm completely empty like this,” he told AFP.

Dabaa had expected this season to also be profitable, but a string of cancelled bookings signals a bumpy road to recovery.

On Sunday, the government announced that hotels may start operating again for domestic tourists, provided they stick to a limit of 25 percent of capacity until the end of May.

From the start of June, this will rise to 50 percent, reflecting the authorities’ confidence they can keep infections under control while jump-starting the tourism sector.

Egypt hopes to get back to the relatively better times of recent years, which saw annual economic growth rates above five percent.

The government has been implementing financial reforms since 2016 when it secured a $12 billion IMF loan, and investors have flocked back in recent years, driving a booming construction sector.

As recently as January, Egypt was ranked among the top ten countries in Morgan Stanley’s Emerging Markets Index.

Planning Minister Hala El-Saeed has estimated that the economy will slow down to about 4.5 percent growth in the third quarter because of the aftershocks of the virus.

But Blair said he was optimistic of a gradual recovery, judging that, if the constraints loosen further in June, a broader revival of commercial activity could “drive economic growth further late in the third and fourth quarters this year”.

AFP

Egypt Extends State Of Emergency On COVID-19, Security Fears

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a view of Bab el-Louk square, one of the generally busy areas near the Egyptian capital Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the central downtown district, almost empty on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP.

 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday ordered the renewal for three months of a long-running state of emergency, citing health as well as security concerns.

Egypt has been under a state of emergency since April 2017 when twin church bombings claimed by an Islamic State group affiliate killed dozens of people.

The new extension comes as the government battles to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the Arab world’s most populous country.

“Given the serious health and security situation … the state of emergency has been declared across the country for three months starting Tuesday, April 28,” said a presidential decree published in the official gazette overnight.

The health ministry has so far recorded 4,782 COVID-19 cases in the population of 100 million.

Of those, 337 have died while 1,236 have recovered.

The state of emergency gives police broad powers of arrest and detention and curtails constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

Last week, state media reported that parliament had approved amendments to the emergency law expanding the president’s powers to curb the virus spread.

READ ALSO: South Asia Faces Fresh Health Crisis As Children Miss Vaccinations

The amendments grant the president rights to close schools, suspend public sector work, restrict gatherings, quarantine inbound travellers and order private medical facilities to assist with general healthcare.

Tuesday’s renewal also directed the armed forces and police to “take the required measures to face terrorism and its funding”.

Egypt has been battling a jihadist insurgency, which surged after the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi by then army chief Sisi.

The attacks have been largely concentrated in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which has been under a state of emergency since October 2014.

AFP

Egypt Seeks Aid From IMF Amid COVID-19 Downturn

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a view of Bab el-Louk square, one of the generally busy areas near the Egyptian capital Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the central downtown district, almost empty on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP.

 

Egypt is seeking an aid package from the International Monetary Fund to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said Sunday.

In a televised press conference with the central bank governor and other ministers, Madbouli did not specify the size of the one-year financial aid package the government was seeking from the IMF alongside technical assistance.

He said the loan would be negotiated “within days”.

Touting the North African economy’s strong performance before the outbreak, he said the aid package was crucial given that flights are grounded and tourism halted.

“No one knows when this crisis will end so we wanted to take some measures that would build on the economy’s gains, especially after the complete shutdown of the aviation and tourism sectors,” Madbouli said.

Egypt’s tourism sector earned $12.6 billion in 2019, the highest figure in nearly a decade.

But the impact of coronavirus has been severe. Foreign reserves dropped from $45.5 billion in February to $40.1 billion at the end of the march, central bank governor Tarek Amer said.

Planning Minister Hala Saeed said that even though the “unprecedented crisis” prompted by the virus had affected global markets, Egypt was still on track to achieve 4.5 percent growth this year.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Lockdowns Ease As Global Infections Near 3 Million

The country loosened its lockdown restrictions with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, allowing shops and malls to trade on weekends and reducing curfew hours by an hour to 9pm until 6am.

Egypt previously signed a $12 billion aid package with the Washington-based IMF in 2016, with the last tranche paid out last year.

Since the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, the economy of the Arab world’s most populous country has sustained multiple shocks caused by political instability and security issues.

The government has imposed harsh austerity measures in recent years to try to reduce its deficit, including cutting subsidies on fuel and electricity.

The impact of economic reforms has been hardest on the poor, in a country where one in three live below the poverty line.

AFP

Egypt Shuts Hospitals, Isolates Villages To Slow Coronavirus

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on March 29, 2020 shows views of Attaba square in the centre of the Egyptian capital Cairo, packed with pedestrians on December 12, 2017 (R) and almost empty on March 25, 2020 (L) before Egyptian authorities imposed a two-week night-time curfew as a measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  AFP

 

Egypt has shuttered several hospitals and quarantined villages in an attempt to halt the rising infection rate of new coronavirus in the most populous Arab state.

A Cairo hospital was closed for sterilisation late Saturday after two COVID-19 cases were confirmed.

An official at Al-Salam hospital told AFP on Sunday: “We are currently disinfecting the hospital for the safety of everyone concerned. One patient had come in tested positive and a member of our staff was infected after”.

He said no date was yet set for re-opening the facility.

Other hospitals have also been closed in the last week after recording cases of the virus, including the Alexandria University Hospital and Al-Shorouk hospital in Cairo.

Health ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed also announced that villages in up to 10 governorates have been quarantined.

“We have several infections from the same source… in what we call local transmission. Before it spreads to become a community transmission, we undertake this precautionary measure of quarantining the entire village… for 14 days,” he said on a widely watched talk-show with popular host Lamees al-Hadidi on Saturday.

Egyptian doctors on social media have urged people to stay home to stem the rate of transmissions through social interactions.

The health ministry has reported 576 COVID-19 cases, including 36 deaths.

Egypt imposed a night-time curfew last week for two weeks in a bid to contain the growing contagion, which has caused over 30,000 deaths globally.

Penalties for violators include a fine of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (around $250) and even jail time. Flights have been grounded until 15 April.

AFP

Egypt Imposes Night-time Curfew In Bid To Contain COVID-19

Workers disinfect a gallery at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, on March 23, 2020. Khaled DESOUKI / AFP.

 

Egypt is to 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 Tuesday news conference.

“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.

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.

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 swiftly 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.

AFP

Egypt Disinfects Landmark Museum Over Coronavirus

A worker disinfects the atrium of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, on March 23, 2020. Khaled DESOUKI / AFP.

 

Cleaning crews descended upon the landmark Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Monday, dousing it with disinfectants as fears mount over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sporting white coats, gloves and face masks, the men sprayed sanitisers across the vast museum halls, home to thousands of precious relics spanning Egypt’s prehistoric era through the Roman period.

The museum also holds the priceless objects of the 18th dynasty Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun including his gold mask, a chariot and throne.

Nestled in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, the museum has long been a major tourist draw.

“The museum has been ordered shut from today (Monday) until March 31 and we started the cleaning operations on exposed surfaces,” said Sabah Sediq, the museum’s director.

The artefacts were kept behind locked glass vitrines as staff proceeded with the disinfection procedures.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia Shuts Land Borders To Fight Coronavirus

“We will be using special materials designed to clean and protect the artifacts in restoration labs,” Sediq said.

Similar cleaning operations are to be carried out at archaeological sites and museums across Egypt to guard against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, the antiquities ministry said disinfection and sterilisation measures had already been taken at prominent ancient sites including the Kom al-Shoqafa catacombs and the Roman victory column of “Pompey’s Pillar” in the coastal city of Alexandria.

The operations have also swept hotels, sea and airports, metro stations and other sites across Egypt.

Egypt’s health ministry has so far registered 14 deaths out of 327 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease.

Authorities have imposed tough measures to limit social interaction in the country of 100 million inhabitants, closing schools and universities and ordering cafes, restaurants, sporting clubs and malls to close by 7.00 pm.

Air traffic was halted from last Thursday until the end of March.

Egypt’s religious authorities have shuttered all mosques and churches and banned communal prayer gatherings for at least two weeks.

AFP

Coronavirus Kills Two Senior Military Officers In Egypt

Workers disinfect a gallery at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, on March 23, 2020. Khaled DESOUKI / AFP.

 

A second senior military officer in Egypt has died of the new coronavirus, state television reported Monday, as the officially declared death toll stood at 14 from 327 cases recorded nationwide.

Major General Shafee Dawood, head of major infrastructure projects at the military engineering authority, became the latest high-ranking figure in Egypt to die from COVID-19 in hospital.

His death comes after Major General Khaled Shaltout, the army’s chief of water management, died from the virus late Sunday.

State television said that Shaltout contracted the disease after having taken part in “sterilisation” procedures to stave off the virus.

Other high-ranking military officials have also been confirmed to have tested positive for the disease, security sources told AFP.

The army released a video last week showing tanks spraying disinfectant in major Cairo sites including the central metro station in Tahrir Square, epicentre of the 2011 revolt that toppled former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Spain Death Toll Surpasses 2,000 After 462 Die In 24 Hours

For decades, the military has played a key, though opaque, role in Egypt’s economy.

Its engineering arm has been behind the construction of a new administrative capital, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Cairo, as well as highways and roads.

Health ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed said on Sunday that infections from the COVID-19 virus have been identified in 24 of the country’s 27 governorates.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Sunday his government has dealt with the pandemic with “full transparency” and denied the true infection rate is being suppressed.

On social media, Egyptians have been critical of the government’s perceived slow handling of the pandemic.

Authorities have imposed tough measures to limit social interaction in the country of 100 million inhabitants.

They have closed schools and universities, ordered cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, sporting clubs and malls to close by 7:00 pm, and trimmed the civil service workforce.

Religious institutions have also shut down churches and called off prayers in mosques to stem the spread of the virus.

AFP

S.Africa Fortifies Border Fence With Zimbabwe Over Coronavirus

A man sprays commuters with hand sanitiser as a preventive measures at Wanderers taxi rank in Johannesburg CBD, on March 18, 2020. – African countries have been among the last to be hit by the global COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic but as cases rise, many nations are now taking strict measures to block the deadly illness. Michele Spatari / AFP.

 

South Africa said Thursday it would erect or repair 40 kilometres (25 miles) of fence along its border with Zimbabwe to secure porous entry points in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Meandering along the Limpopo river, the Beitbridge border between South Africa and Zimbabwe is prone to illegal crossovers, especially by economic migrants who often crawl through broken sections of the fence.

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille announced she had invoked emergency procurement procedures to build or repair fencing on either side of the Beitbridge Border post.

“This is to ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross into the country and vice-versa,” she said as South Africa’s infection numbers jumped to 150 Thursday from 116 the previous day.

“This is in line with one of the measures announced by the president in that South Africa’s borders and ports are to be secured with immediate effect,” she said in a statement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered that 35 of the 53 land entry points be closed as coronavirus infections in South Africa rise rapidly.

“This measure will, however, not be effective if the fences at the border are not secure, which in many places, they are not.”

Construction is due to start this week.

“All 40 kilometres of fence will be finished within one month,” she said.

Fixing the 1.8 metre (5.9 feet)-high fence will cost approximately 37.2 million rand ($2.1 million).

South Africa currently has the most infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most cases are people who recently returned from abroad, especially Europe, but the number of local infections is increasing.

AFP

13 Injured As Trains Collide In Cairo

Egypt Detects 12 New Cases Of Coronavirus

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP

Egypt detected 12 new cases Friday of the novel coronavirus among workers aboard a Nile cruise boat heading from Aswan to Luxor, a health ministry statement said.

“Twelve new cases tested positive for the coronavirus among Egyptian staff on the cruise boat without showing any symptoms,” the joint statement with the World Health Organization said.

Authorities were alerted after it was found that a Taiwanese tourist of “American origin” who travelled on the ship had caused the virus to spread, they said.

WHO had alerted Egyptian officials that tests revealed that the tourist, a woman, was the “main case that infected other cases”, the statement added.

It was not clear where the tourist contracted the virus and if she had gone back to Taiwan or another country.

The 12 workers were quarantined after they were suspected of contracting the coronavirus and tested positive on the last day of their 14-day isolation.

Other people who were on the boat and had come in contact with the tourist were also quarantined for 14 days.

Earlier this week, authorities said they had detected a third case of the virus, in a 44-year-old Egyptian man who had returned from Serbia after a 12-hour transit in France.

Initially, the man had shown no symptoms but a few days after his return home he checked himself into a hospital after experiencing some minor symptoms, officials said.

The first person infected in Egypt was a Chinese national who has since recovered.

The novel coronavirus originated in China last year and has so far killed over 3,385 people worldwide and infected over 98,000.