Egypt inched toward a semblance of normalcy on Saturday as mosques, cafes and restaurants reopened after three months, albeit under tight restrictions, even as the number of new coronavirus infections in the country continued to soar.
At dawn, masked worshipers flooded into Cairo’s ancient mosques, some over 1,000 years old, to say communal prayers for the first time in three months. Later, patrons slowly returned to the city’s coffees shops and restaurants, many with an evident sense of relief.
For months, business leaders have lobbied President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to end the lockdown, arguing that the economic damage outweighed the health risks. On Friday, the International Monetary Fund approved a $5.2 billion loan to help Egypt get back on its feet, adding to an early promise of $2.8 billion at the start of pandemic.
Even so, tight limitations remain — restaurants are restricted to 25 percent capacity, water pipes are banned from cafes on sanitary grounds, and Friday prayers are still forbidden. The easing on Saturday had an anxious, tentative feel, with many Egyptians balancing their desire to socialize or worship together against an awareness that the disease was spreading fast.
“This has got to be a gradual process,” said Abdullah Mohammed, 33, a pharmacy worker sitting with friends by the Nile who had recently recovered from Covid-19.
Egypt’s health ministry has reported 62,755 infections and 2,620 deaths. With the infection rate touching new highs, doctors’ groups have warned of a crisis at overcrowded hospitals, where over 100 doctors have died for want of protective equipment and training.
Even so, Egypt’s airports are set to reopen on July 1.