Staying home during pandemic is not an option for many in Egypt

By Noemi Jabois

Cairo, Apr 2 (efe-epa).- Two hours before the start of the 7 pm to 6 am curfew imposed to fight the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt, Rabie waits for customers beside his mobile vegetable stall set up on the sidewalk.

Rabie, who has been working for 60 years, belongs to the population group at risk for Covid-19 but is one of many who cannot afford to stay at home without working.

In Egypt, a country of 100 million inhabitants, 40 percent of people are in the labor market, 20 percent of workers are poor and 30 percent are in irregular work, according to figures issued by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Every day at 8 am, Rabie arrives with his goods to the wealthy neighbourhood of Zamalek and spends his day among lemons, cauliflowers and onions until the sun begins to set.

Egypt has recorded 710 confirmed coronavirus cases and 46 deaths as of Wednesday, a week after the authorities launched a partial curfew with restrictive hours for shops. The restrictions do not apply to supermarkets and pharmacies on weekdays.

All non-essential stores, including street vendors, are subjected to complete shutdown on Fridays and Saturdays, Egypt’s weekend.

Since then, Rabie’s customers have been cut in half.

“If the situation lasts long, it will be more difficult,” the old man tells Efe, admitting people are buying more vegetable than before.

There is not much difference between Rabie and Mahmoud, a middle-aged carpenter who has a wife and three children to support.

Mahmoud says orders have dwindled in recent days as many clients do not want him to enter their houses over the fear of potential contagion.

“We have to go to work because most of us artisans work on a day-to-day basis and we cannot stay home,” Mahmoud tells Efe.

Mostafa, a 57-year-old taxi driver who has a heart condition and diabetes, has been able to avoid going out to earn a living thanks to the help of his neighbours, friends and family. But he fears the situation will worsen very soon.

“I cannot work much because I am sick and there are good people helping me,” says Mostafa who used to earn between 150-300 Egyptian pounds ($10-20) a day.

With this amount of money, Mostafa managed to “get by” and cover the needs of his wife and three school-age children but now he has to protect his health.

“A friend brings me some stuff, another lends me 200 pounds and so on until God fixes this situation,” the taxi driver, who only works sporadically now if a trusted client contacts him, says.

There are around another nine million Egyptians similar to Rabie, Mahmoud and Mostafa.

Abdelhamid Mekkawi, a researcher from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Efe that about 30 percent of the country’s workers are irregular, according to data released in 2018 by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAMPAS) and the Economic Research Forum (ERF).

Mekkawi believes that the vast majority of farmers, drivers and street vendors will most likely continue to work amid the restrictions, but with limited hours and, therefore, less income.

According to the ILO, a lockdown “like the one currently imposed in Spain” due to the coronavirus could mean that 60 percent of Egyptian workers lose their jobs overnight.

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