Virus pandemic deals heavy blow to Egypt’s working poor

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by Farid Farid

Haggard and dishevelled from the stress of making ends meet, day labourers line up in Cairo for food parcels after losing their jobs to the sharp downturn caused by the coronavirus.

Sayed Shaaban, 42, who used to work in a cafe, said for him the pandemic is not just a health scare but a crushing blow to his already precarious livelihood.

Wearing a mask and gloves, he waited in line outside a charity centre affiliated with the Egyptian Food Bank (EFB) in Salam City, a poor neighbourhood of eastern Cairo.

“You see how I have only one functioning arm — I used to serve drinks and get paid,” he told AFP.

“But now there’s not even one piastre coming in.”

EFB, a large Cairo-based charity, has been at the forefront of a public relief effort in the most populous Arab country.

One third of Egypt’s population of more than 100 million lives in poverty, surviving on about $1.50 or less a day.

For many who were already struggling, meagre incomes have vanished since a curfew was imposed on March 24 to stem the spread of the virus.

Egypt has so far recorded 85 deaths out of 1,322 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Shaaban, a father of two young children from Salam City, has been housebound since his local “baladi” cafe was shuttered.

“We have no social insurance to fall back on since the cafe has been closed,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t in need.”

Mohamed Said, 36, a carpenter and father of three queueing behind Shaaban, said that “since this crisis started we’ve been sitting at home and there’s no money coming in.”

“We don’t know how to feed our kids …. and if, God forbid, something happens to any of them, I won’t be able to foot a hospital bill.” (AFP)

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