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Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Iran Announce Partial Easing of Coronavirus Restrictions

Men ride their motorcycles as they celebrate their friends' wedding before a curfew imposed as a prevention measure against the coronavirus pandemic, Cairo, April 16, 2020.

A number of Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Tunisia have announced the reopening of parts of their economies in the wake of lengthy coronavirus closures. At the same time, Algeria has decided to reorder the closure of some businesses due to unsafe gatherings.

Amid strong pressure from Egypt's important tourism sector, Tourism Minister Khaled al Anani told Arab media late Sunday that the country would gradually reopen hotels in key regions to domestic tourism, before eventually reopening to international tourism.

He says that hotels will be allowed to reopen up to 25% of their normal capacity as of May 15th, once they fill out applications to do so and agree to comply with World Health Organization regulations concerning laundry, beach areas, restaurants, and employees.Anani went on to say that domestic air traffic would also resume between certain cities in the near future, and that there have been discussions with certain countries about eventually resuming international flights to Egypt. He added that every other seat on domestic flights would be left empty.

Customers have a drink at a restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon, May 4, 2020.
Customers have a drink at a restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon, May 4, 2020.

In Lebanon, the government allowed restaurants and cafes to reopen Monday if they did not exceed 30% of normal capacity. It was not clear, however, if many would accept the offer, due to potential financial losses under such restrictions. Beaches and seaside resorts were also being allowed to reopen.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indicated Sunday that the country would start reopening various facilities, gradually, and that Friday prayers would resume in some areas this week.

He says that various sectors will reopen slowly and calmly on orders from the Interior Ministry, including sports facilities, stadiums, hairdressers and some schools, while keeping in mind that the coronavirus is still around and could cause harm.

In Tunisia, authorities announced the reopening of some sectors, including some government administrations, public transport and construction projects.

Residents wearing face masks shop for the Ramadan in Tunis, April 23, 2020.
Residents wearing face masks shop for the Ramadan in Tunis, April 23, 2020.

Private media indicated that some businesses also reopened. Clothing shops were reportedly being asked not to allow customers to use changing rooms.

In Algeria, however, local TV stations announced that a number of provinces reordered the closure of some businesses, after an initial decision to reopen them last week. Reports of unsafe behavior by some businesses, including hair salons, appeared to have prompted the decision.

As of Monday, both Egypt and Algeria had between 400 and 500 reported fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Lebanon and Tunisia have under 50.

Iran has by far the largest death toll from the virus, although there is dispute over the figures. The government is reporting more than 6,000 fatalities.