Amid COVID-19 Closures, Egypt Sanitizes the Giza Pyramids

The country has shut down its museums and archaeological sites in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus

Workers stand in foreground with pyramid towering behind them
With pyramids closed to visitors, workers are deep cleaning the structures. Photo by Gehad Hamdy/picture alliance via Getty Images

Since reporting its first coronavirus case in mid-February, Egypt has registered 456 COVID-19 infections and 21 deaths. The country of more than 100 million people has enacted a number of measures in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, including shutting down its museums and archaeological sites. While these attractions are closed, Reuters reports, they will be sanitized—meaning that tourist hotspots like the Giza pyramids are getting a deep clean.

Donning face masks and gloves, workers sprayed the ticket office, a visitor center and the walkways around the iconic pyramids, a complex of three structures built between 2575 and 2465 B.C. The pyramids themselves weren’t cleaned; that requires “specific materials and ... must be carried out by a specialised team of excavators," Ashraf Mohie El-Din, director general of the pyramids area, tells Reuters.

Other famed attractions—like the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo—have been affected by the widespread closures of cultural institutions, which were announced on March 23 and are set to continue until the 31, according to Egypt Today.

In recent years, Egypt has worked hard to bolster its tourism industry, which suffered a steep blow after a period of national instability and violence following the 2011 Arab Spring. Officials have eagerly promoted the country’s archaeological heritage as a way to entice visitors; just this month, Egypt reopened the 4,700-year-old Pyramid of Djoser, which had been closed for a 14-year, multi-million dollar renovation. Weeks after the reopening, the pyramid is closed once again, according to James Pasley of Business Insider. Tourist cancellations have now reached 80 percent, reports the Associated Press.

Shuttering and sanitizing cultural heritage spots is one of several measures that officials have implemented in an effort to stop the virus from proliferating among Egypt’s 100 million residents. Schools and universities across the country are closed, as are cafes, nightclubs, gyms and sports clubs, reports Al Jazeera. Air traffic has been halted until April 15, and mosques and churches have been shuttered. A two-week nightly curfew, which bans public and private transportation between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., is now in force. As part of the curfew, shops, malls and service centers must remain closed between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m., and they are not allowed to open on Fridays and Saturdays. Those who violate the rules could be fined 4,000 Egyptian pounds (around $255) and face prison time.

"We aim to protect our families and citizens across Egypt," Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly said during a news conference, according to Al Jazeera. "There are more restrictive measures that we will take according to the developments."

Though the situation—in Egypt and many other countries around the world—is critical, El-Din offered a silver lining to the closing of the Giza pyramids.

"We are making use of this period [not only] to sanitize the entire area,” he tells Reuters, “but also to carry out some maintenance work and renovation to have this area ready to accept visitors again."

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