Egypt amends emergency laws amid coronavirus outbreak

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s parliament approved on Wednesday amendments to the country’s emergency laws that give expanded powers to the presidency and the military prosecution as authorities try to counter the new coronavirus outbreak.

The amendments allow the state to take and enforce a series of measures, some of which have already been deployed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

These include suspending schools, banning public or private gatherings, quarantining returning travelers, prohibiting the export of certain goods and placing restrictions on the trade or transfer of commodities, according to a parliamentary report on the amendments.

The state will also be allowed to direct private hospitals and their staff to help with general healthcare for a specific period, and to convert schools, companies and other publicly- owned sites into field hospitals.

Egypt has routinely renewed at three-month intervals a state of emergency imposed in 2017 after two church bombings that killed several dozen people.

Since it detected its first clusters of coronavirus infections last month, Egypt has shut schools, closed places of worship and imposed a night curfew.

During the day much activity has continued, with many workers depending on daily wages to make ends meet.

The government has confirmed 3,659 cases of the new coronavirus including 276 deaths.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Egyptians to follow public health guidance as Muslims prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, starting on Friday.

“If we achieved success during the past period, during the next few weeks we don’t want to lose what we succeeded in,” he said in a televised speech.

“Please be alert with us and help us more with the culture of prevention, disinfection, and protection, and keeping away from gatherings whether in public transport or elsewhere.”

Reporting by Nashat Hamdy and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis, editing by Ed Osmond