CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt reported its first fatality from the coronavirus on Sunday, with the Health Ministry saying a 60-year-old German tourist, who had arrived in the country seven days ago and was taken to hospital in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, had died.
The country has been rushing to protect its important tourism sector, reassuring people it is safe to travel there after an outbreak of the respiratory virus on a cruise ship on the River Nile.
Officials said on Saturday the coronavirus had been detected in 45 people on the cruise ship, including foreign tourists, after the vessel reached the southern city of Luxor. Before that, Egypt had reported only three confirmed cases of the virus.
Late on Sunday, the Health Ministry said in a statement that Egypt registered seven new cases - four foreigners and three Egyptians - bringing the total number of confirmed case to 55.
Most of the new cases were in contact with some of the previously detected 48 cases including a health worker, it added. Among them was the German who died earlier on Sunday and a man returning from Saudi Arabia after a religious visit.
The ministers of tourism, health and civil aviation toured a temple on Sunday in central Luxor, across the Nile from the Valley of the Kings where pharaohs were buried in tombs carved into rock.
“We are here to respond to rumors saying that there are no tourists and people are afraid of coming. Thank God, people are here,” Khaled al-Anani, the tourism and antiquities minister, told state television before the camera panned across to show tourists queuing to enter the site.
“No to exaggerated reactions. Our eyes are on everything,” said Health Minister Hala Zayed.
The German man who died had tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, the Health Ministry said. He was in Luxor before being moved to Hurghada.
The tourism industry is an important driver of Egypt’s economic growth and has rebounded after a decline following the 2011 uprising that toppled long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak.
Revenue was a record high $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended last July, according to central bank figures.
At another top tourism site, the Giza Pyramids outside Cairo, guides and souvenir sellers said business had slowed over the past month because of fears over the coronavirus.
Ali Hamouda Hassan, who gives tours of the pyramids on horseback, said he now had “one customer every two days.”
The cruise boat struck by the virus has been towed outside Luxor and placed under quarantine, state media reported. Those who tested positive were flown by military plane for quarantine in northern Egypt.
Officials say the newly announced cases and others discovered in people who passed through Egypt originated from a Taiwanese-U.S. national who returned to Taiwan in February after traveling on the cruise ship.
Karim ElMinabaway, president of Emeco Travel Egypt, said there had been few cancellations from travelers abroad through to the end of June but that tourism could be badly hit.
“We are receiving 10% of what we had been expecting for the first quarter of next year,” he said.
Maged Fawzi, who heads the country’s hotels facilities chamber, said in a statement that ministers had agreed with managers of hotels and cruise ships in Luxor to buy infrared thermometers and to hire a foreign company to check food safety.
EgyptAir, the national carrier, said on Sunday it would waive fees for changes to international flights for all passengers in relation to the coronavirus from Saturday until the end of the month regardless of the date of travel.
The spread of the coronavirus outside Egypt could have other effects on the economy, including on Egyptians working abroad, an important source of foreign currency remittances.
Hundreds of people were queuing on Sunday at Cairo’s main public laboratory center for blood tests required by Saudi Arabia for workers traveling from Egypt to show they do not have the coronavirus.
(This story corrects number of new cases in paragraphs 4-5)
Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Nadeen Ebrahim; Additional reporting by Samar Hassan, Omar Fahmy and Patrick Werr; Editing Timothy Heritage, Jane Merriman and Peter Cooney