Even though COVID-19 is not yet a thing of the past, the trend the world over is to resume economic, commercial, industrial, agricultural and other activities which were partially or fully locked down on account of the virus. The suspension of these various activities has had dire consequences on local and international markets. It also hit the labour market hard, leaving millions of people unemployed. Other equally important sectors were also victim of COVID-19 lockdown; these include tourism, aviation, education, entertainment and sports. Some in Egypt see that sectors such as entertainment and sports come second to businesses and industries regarding the urgent need to reopen, overlooking the fact that these are also businesses and industries in their own right, and are in fact indispensable for millions of workers who depend on them for livelihoods and incomes.
Like the rest of the world, Egypt too is opening up, breathing life into industries and businesses while taking cautionary measures to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 does not get out of hand. Egypt does this even though official figures of daily cases infected with COVID-19 have taken a leap during the past few weeks. No one can confirm whether these figures represent the peak of virus spread after which it would subside, or indicate that the virus is in effect running out of control. Accordingly, we need to exercise prudence and caution when we contemplate resumption of activities of special nature such as entertainment and sports.
I repeat, if entertainment outlets such as cinema theatres, the Opera House, coffee shops, restaurants and clubs rank second in the eyes of the general public to other businesses and industries, they are significant for the economy and constitute vital sources of income for those employed in them. The challenge then is to regulate resumption of their activities while ensuring they do not act as epicentres of the virus. The number of visitors frequenting these places should be regulated, strict measures should be adopted to check that guests are free of infection, and safe distancing measures should be applied. None of these cautionary measures should be overlooked, so that COVID-19 infection rates do not spike and we do not have go back to lockdown.
Sports activities may be placed under two categories: one concerns playing sports for health and well-being in clubs, youth centres, courts, or gyms; the other concerns the competitive games whether individual or team sports. Whereas the attendance of spectators is not an issue in case of the first category, it is a pressing one in the second. With the ever-present threat of coronavirus, there have been calls to allow spectator sports to resume without spectator attendance. Even though this may appear rather strange in many places in the world, it has unfortunately been done in Egypt before for security and organisational reasons. There can thus be no problem in doing so for cautionary health reasons.
My main concern, however, revolves around the mingling of the players themselves and how to secure that they remain infection-free. Only a few games, such as tennis or table tennis, require players to stand at a safe distance from each other. Most individual or team games, including boxing, wrestling, football, basketball, handball, volley ball, and even squash, involve players in close contact with one another. Under COVID-19, can anything be done to secure players and limit the spread of the virus from one player to the other? And how can we ensure that no player is actually a virus carrier? These are serious challenges that should not be taken lightly when considering resumption of sports and entertainment activities.
May God protect our nation from all harm, and see our people through this crisis in peace until we can go back to normal life and activity.
20 June 2020