On Friday, June 19, Egypt passed the unfortunate milestone of recording more than 50,000 cases nationwide. The government reported 1,218 new cases on Thursday, June 18, after the country saw its largest daily increase yet when 1,677 cases and 62 deaths hit headlines on June 13. According to data reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) Egypt now has 50,437 cases and 1,938 deaths, with no sign of a flattening curve in infection rates.
As the most populous country in the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt would logically record more cases than its smaller neighbors, but the continuous increase in cases is worrying experts. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate on Tuesday, June 16 reported that 68 Egyptian doctors have died of the coronavirus and 430 have contracted the virus, making up roughly 5-7% of all doctors.
According to Anadolu Agency, unofficial sources have claimed that a further 1,000 healthcare workers have caught the virus, leading to 180 deaths by Tuesday, June 16. At the end of May, the Guardian revealed that one of its reporters in Egypt, Ruth Michaelson, was forced to leave the country after reporting on a study that disputed Egypt’s official tally.
While Egypt initially designated a number of COVID-19 isolation hospitals for every citizen that showed even mild symptoms. The continual increase in new cases appears to have pushed the health ministry to now offer prescriptions that are delivered to patients’ homes as Egypt’s healthcare system struggles to cope with an influx in new cases.
On the same day that Egyptian health officials released news of the unfortunate new milestone, the Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khaled al-Anany struck an altogether more positive tone. In an interview with Chinese outlet Xinhua, al-Anany stated that Egypt is “gearing up” to welcome foreign tourists.
Anany stated that Egypt “will reopen its airports and resorts in the provinces of Red Sea, South Sinai, and Matrouh to international tourists in an attempt to ease the anticipated recession on the tourism sector due to COVID-19 spread.” The three provinces where tourism will be allowed are all coastal provinces, where Egyptian officials have reported relatively low numbers of coronavirus infections.
“I have received official requests to resume tourist flows from Italy and Ukraine,” Anany told Xinhua, but tempered expectations by saying “we are not expecting a high number of tourists for the time being, not only in Egypt, but the whole world.”
Egypt’s reliance on income from its important tourism sector could force it to risk a premature reopening. Tourism in Egypt brought in $13 billion in 2019, which was an all-time record for the country.
Several tourism-dependent countries around the world have offered a range of coronavirus-related measures to assuage potential tourists’ worries. The Cypriot Ministry of Tourism announced that any tourist that tests positive for COVID-19 infection on arrival in Cyprus will be provided with free treatment and no hotel expenses on the island. Campsites and hotels around Europe are also reopening as many countries slowly lift lockdowns.
The global pandemic has created an unprecedented situation for tourism around the Mediterranean as millions of Europeans will have had their original travel plans canceled and could soon be shopping for bargains. Meanwhile, traditional tourist destinations compete to offer visitors a safe way to enjoy the hot summer months.
For Egypt, this means improving hygiene standards and introducing a variety of preventative measures. “We are not in a hurry because we give priority to the safety of tourists as well as preserving our image as a tourist destination,” Tourism Minister Anany told Xinhua: Safety has become the new focus in international tourism.
“Hotels have ramped up hygiene, archaeological sites have been sanitized and beaches cleaned up,” Anany stated as Egypt’s seeks to reassure visitors. Whether Egypt’s ambitions toward restarting its vital tourism sector amid a growing epidemic will be successful remains to be seen.
For the many Egyptians who work in the industry, it is clear they would rather listen to their tourism minister’s optimism than despair over the increased numbers of infections reported by health officials.