On Friday, Egypt recorded a grim and troubling milestone with 1,127 new cases of COVID-19 identified and 29 new deaths. That takes Egypt, the most populous Arab country, to a total number of confirmed cases of 20,793, and 845 fatalities.
Egyptian authorities have taken a relatively casual approach to coronavirus and failed to impose strict lockdown measures for any legitimately effective period of time. This distinguishes Egypt from other countries in the region such as Morocco, where citizens have been in confinement since March 20.
Egypt’s large population and high population density make managing its coronavirus outbreak difficult. On Thursday, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli moved to increase Egypt’s night-time curfew from 9 to 13 hours per day for 15 days, from Saturday, in response to the high number of new cases.
With the virus showing no signs of abating, Madbouli has been forced to push back plans to gradually reopen the country, and the cabinet decided all eateries, entertainment venues, shopping malls, and retail outlets must remain closed for the foreseeable future. The Health Ministry has updated its coronavirus tracking app that now allows people to self-report if they believe they are infected.
Gold market still shining
Like all countries across the MENA region, COVID-19 has hit the Egyptian economy hard. A rare bright spot in Egypt’s recession is the strong gold price, which has spiked as investors seek to put their money into “safe” options such as the precious metal.
Gold sales themselves have decreased, with one gold shop owner from Giza, Mostafa Mikkawy reporting an 85% drop in sales since Egypt introduced COVID-19 curbs in mid-march.
“Since March, the gold market is almost frozen, because people are afraid to leave their homes because of the highly infectious virus,” Mikkawy said.
“Since the appearance of the novel coronavirus in Egypt, the gold market has been suffering a massive recession and sales have fallen by more than 80 percent,” secretary of the Gold Division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce Nady Naguib concurred.
Even though sales are down, the price of Egyptian gold has followed international markets and spiked.
“The gold price hikes are expected to continue amid the collapse of the economies of some countries because of the coronavirus crisis, and vice versa,” according to Head of the Metallurgical Chamber’s Gold Manufacturers Division at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, Rafik Abbasi.
“Some countries feared the devaluation of their local currencies and the collapse of their economies. As a result, they resorted to buying tons of gold as a safe and global commodity that they can sell after the crisis is over,” his colleague Naguib explained.
It remains to be seen if gold merchant Mikkaway’s prediction that the price rise is only “temporary” will ring true, or if the gold market will continue to hold as the uncertainty and economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis continues.