Cairo (AFP)

From the pyramids to the beaches of the Red Sea, passing through the monuments of Cairo, Egypt, which is still struggling with the pandemic of new coronavirus, is organizing to reopen the country to visitors.

In Egypt, "we are preparing the ground for tourists from around the world to find a destination (...) in exemplary sanitary conditions", assures the Minister of Tourism Khaled El-Enani, during an interview with AFP.

If the reopening measures will be announced "in the coming days", he says the authorities are "in no hurry".

"We are waiting for the curve (of contaminations) to be stable", he said, while welcoming figures "very low compared to the countries of the region and the world".

Egypt has registered around 33,000 cases of Covid-19 disease, including more than 1,200 deaths, according to official statistics, which experts believe to be underestimated. High figures for the region but which, compared to its population (100 million inhabitants), have a low mortality rate.

According to the minister, the first tourist destinations to reopen will be the Red Sea resorts and the Mediterranean beaches west of Alexandria.

It also announces the upcoming reopening of certain high places of Egyptian tourism such as the pyramids of Giza, the temple of Karnak or the tomb of Tutankhamun where only 10 people can enter at a time.

Where the density of tourists per square meter is likely to be too high, especially in closed places, "it will come later," he said.

The tourist year 2020 promised record attendance in Egypt, in a sector that was barely recovering from the instability linked to the popular revolt of 2011 and the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime.

Some 15 million tourists were expected - as against 13 in 2019 - before international flights were suspended on March 19 due to the new coronavirus.

- Financial help -

In May, after more than two months of closure, Egypt reopened hotels to Egyptian tourists "with a capacity of 25%, increased on June 1 to 50%," said the minister.

To reopen, hotels must take sanitary measures such as providing customers with masks and disinfectant gel, disinfecting the common areas every hour, using the elevators only at 50% of their capacity.

Of 178 hotels that requested reopening in May, only 73 were allowed, said El-Enani.

"I can't take risks," he says. "I prefer to support the hotel (financially), but it does not open."

In 2019, the tourism sector had generated 11.5 billion euros in revenue, according to official figures. The pandemic has caused a "brake", recognizes the minister, without giving a precise estimate of the losses.

In early April, Planning Minister Hala El-Said publicly spoke of possible losses of around 4.4 billion euros in 2020.

To support the sector, which directly employs over a million people, the Egyptian central bank has authorized loans in the sector, "up to 50 billion Egyptian pounds (2.7 billion euros) in interest. very reduced, about 5% ", according to Mr. El-Enani.

The funds were used to "pay the salaries of employees in the maintenance and development of hotels, buses, cruises, travel agencies," he said.

Facilities granted provided that companies "do not fire employees," said the minister, who claims to have canceled the work permits of hotels having dismissed employees.

As the economy barely recovers from an unprecedented crisis, the government has increased funding sources.

In May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted emergency aid to Egypt of almost 2.8 billion dollars, or 2.4 billion euros. Friday the institution gave its agreement in principle for another aid of 5.2 billion dollars (4.6 billion euros), still to cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.

And, although its inauguration at the end of 2020 has been postponed, the tourism sector is banking on the opening next year of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), near the pyramids of Giza.

The GEM "will be a tourist asset and a very solid point of attraction", assures Mr. El-Enani.

© 2020 AFP