Egyptians reusing, sharing masks to avoid fines

It seems many Egyptians remain unconcerned with the virus and in any case not concerned enough to change their daily habits.
Wednesday 03/06/2020
Men, one of them wearing a protective face mask, ride a motorbike, in Cairo, amidst concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease. (REUTERS)
Men, one of them wearing a protective face mask, ride a motorbike, in Cairo, amidst concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease. (REUTERS)

CAIRO –Mahmoud Shehata, a taxi driver, stopped his vehicle in Cairo’s Shubra district when he saw a policeman standing 50 meters away from his car. He turned and asked one of his passengers for a face mask to avoid paying a fine.

The man riding the cab told him all he had was a used mask, but the driver accepted it anyway, saying that he “will wear it temporarily instead of paying 4,000 Egyptian pounds ($270) to this policeman.”

Another passenger joked that it was a “revolving mask,” playing off of the phrase “revolving paper” that is often used to describe election fraud.

The incident is revealing: It shows that the driver preferred potentially getting sick than paying a fine. He justified the choice by saying he would be certain to pay a fine without the mask, but that his health ultimately lay in God’s hands.

Such logic has led to an increase in the spread of the COVID-19 in Egypt and authorities worry the official tally is artificially low.

Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, said Monday that the real number of coronavirus cases may reach ten times higher than the official number.

As of Tuesday, Egypt had declared 26,384 COVID-19 cases and over 1,000 deaths.

Some of the government’s methods of enforcing preventative health measures, including levying fines on those who do not wear face masks, have proven controversial.

Some Egyptians uploaded photos on social media of people washing masks to reuse them because they cannot afford to purchase new ones or pay fines.

Egypt began enforcing the use of face masks in public places on Saturday, with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly saying fines will be issued against all those in violation.

Egyptian officials are increasingly concerned by the health crisis, warning that figures could double in the coming weeks, but the public is largely disillusioned with the tough restrictions, including curfews and shutdowns that have added to already difficult economic conditions.

Some observers said the government’s use of fines to enforce the preventative measures could further stigmatise impoverished Egyptians, many of whom are not wearing them or resorting to unsanitary, used ones.

They are asking the government to launch a campaign urging donations of masks and gloves to those in need.

Sociologist Samia Khadr told The Arab Weekly that many Egyptians have not changed their habits or adopted preventative measures because of a lack of awareness in a country where 30% of the population is illiterate.

It seems many Egyptians remain unconcerned with the virus and in any case not concerned enough to change their daily habits.