Today I carry on with last week’s discussion of reopening businesses while still under threat of COVID-19. Like many countries in the world, Egypt finds itself harshly squeezed between the hammer and anvil: should it exercise caution and maintain partial lockdown, thereby opting for better health safety; or should it go along with cries that call for unfettering all business activities in order to get the wheels of the economy rolling? The government is walking a tightrope as it attempts to balance the health needs of Egyptians against their livelihoods.
It is self-evident that we cannot afford the luxury of partial or total lockdown of industries or businesses that are crucial to Egypt’s needs, we had no alternative but to take the calculated risk of allowing them to operate. But other activities called for prioritising caution to minimise health risks. The stark difference between the two cases is that the first case involves a fixed base of staff and workers whose health conditions can be easily monitored, in addition to a small number of temporary workers and few visitors whose schedules or visits may be controlled; whereas the second relies mainly on temporary workers and large numbers of guests who come from all walks of life, thus dramatically increasing the possibility of runaway COVID-19 infection.
In my last editorial of 21 June, I discussed the possible reopening of the second category of businesses, tackling at length the entertainment and sports businesses. These are not luxury or superfluous activities as some consumers may see them; they offer employment and incomes to millions of workers. In this light, I wrote that it is imperative to take all necessary health precautions to resume these activities. This involves allowing them to partially reopen while subjecting them to scrutiny, monitoring, and assessment with the possibility of again suspending them in case the situation gets out of control.
Today I add another category to businesses that warrant reopening. This includes holiday spots, resorts, and beaches, the opening of which may give a much-needed boost to domestic and international tourism. Now is the time when Egyptians normally head to beaches, driving into high gear a business of hotels, resorts, beaches and tourist services, and providing livelihoods for millions.
In view of the current conditions, the tourism sector may be broken down into various levels basing on how much the spread of COVID-19 could be abated and controlled. I discuss here three of these levels. First, there are hotels where it is easy to impose controls over workers and hotel guests; hotels are able to apply cautionary measures to ensure social distancing. They can also have at hand the necessary medical staff to act when needs be. Second, there are vacation resorts with private beaches frequented mainly by unit owners and limited numbers of tenants or guests. The low population density in these resorts allows social distancing, which works in their favour. Yet what works against them is that their administrations are usually too lenient in imposing rules and regulations, which goes against the strictness required in applying cautionary measures against COVID-19, or in case the health situation gets out of control. Public holiday spots and beaches come under the third level. These are open places where there can be no control over the numbers frequenting them, neither are there any means to check their health conditions, nor any administration to speak of that could handle matters should they get out of hand. Thousands upon thousands converge on these places daily, swarming over every inch of land, closely sitting next to one another under frightful levels of chaos, pollution and noise. Unfortunately, it is wiser to keep such open beaches closed in order to eliminate the high COVID-19 risk to holidaymakers, while carefully studying the manner in which the workers there—whether permanent or seasonal—may be compensated.
I admit and fully understand that our government and all those involved in decision making are in an intricate situation that requires extreme perception and wisdom. They are really between the hammer and the anvil as they attempt to decide to breathe new life into the economy or to opt for health safety instead.
25 June 2020