As the world adapts to the existence of coronavirus between us for god knows how long, the age of social distancing is far from ever, it’s only starting. The countries that suffered the worst hit are finally taking a breath of fresh air and getting back up on their feet as the curve finally flattens, recording fewer cases with each passing day. Unfortunately, this is still not the case for Egypt where traveling abroad is still far from near. The strict restrictions in Egypt had started mid-March when cases were still considered under control. But now it’s three months later and the situation is slipping out of hand. As Egypt keeps recording over a thousand new cases every day -officially, at least- there seems to be a consensus from the government to slowly lift restrictions.
Shortly after the WHO announced the coronavirus as a global pandemic, Egypt was among the few countries praised for their fast reactions to control the spread of the virus, closing down all airports, suspending all flights, closing down all restaurants, cafes, gyms, malls, and enforcing a nation-wide curfew. A few weeks later Egypt had started operating repatriation flights for nationals stuck abroad with a mandatory 14-day quarantine for returnees in specific hotels in Marsa Alam, and later on in university dorms, as the repatriation flights increased. But as Egypt’s resources fall lower and the number of nationals returnees increases, for some reason, the government has announced that the mandatory quarantine period for anyone returning from abroad is canceled and instead replaced with home quarantine. Returnees are instead now asked to self-quarantine at home for two weeks as a precaution against the virus. Although the repatriation flights have so far successfully brought back over 12,000 stranded Egyptians, it’s still not apparent why the strict rules are being lifted while the number of cases in the country is soaring. Besides the rule of home quarantine, Egyptian health authorities have abolished all COVID-19 testing at airports across the country, less than a day after 105 overseas arrivals tested positive for the virus. Instead, health authorities will simply check the temperature for all arrivals.
Besides the repatriation flights, Egypt is slowly taking steps towards the return of tourism by bringing back domestic tourism. However, according to Mohamed Farouk, the Chairperson of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association’s Electronic Tourism Committee, foreign tourism doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for Egypt soon -- at least not for another two years. As countries worldwide try to find a safe path to receive tourists, Egypt is first testing out the waters with domestic travel, where hotels in the Red Sea are now following a list of strict rules to operate safely. However, the question of when the airports plan on fully reopening for international travel remains unanswered. For now, the repatriation flights for Egyptians defined as stranded continue, and for others, there’s a 6-month extension on passport validity.
The unjustified decisions of easing restrictions at a time like this were reportedly all part of the country’s plan to resume normal air travel after its suspension since March, ensuring that life continues in Egypt alongside COVID-19. Understandably, these decisions are stirring confusion and concern among Egyptians as the number of cases surpasses 30,000. It doesn't look like safe traveling is coming back for Egyptians anytime soon, but maybe it's for the best to win the battle against COVID-19. For now, keep that face mask on, keep a two-meters social distance, and stay home as much as possible.