Egypt’s second richest man tells workers to return to factories after curfew ends

Egypt’s second richest man has urged authorities to order people back to work once a curfew ends, and threatened to commit suicide if the measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus exceed two weeks.

In a TV interview widely criticised by labour rights advocates, Naguib Sawiris said Egyptians should go back to work after the end of a two-week curfew – on 8 April – to prevent economic collapse.

“We need a revolutionary decision, regardless of the consequences,” he told TV host Lamees Hadidi on the Saudi-owned Al-Hadath channel. “Even if people get sick, they will recover,” he said.

“Let me tell you something, I will commit suicide if they extend the [curfew] period.” Sawiris, who belongs to Egypt’s richest family, suggested three solutions to end the lockdown while keeping the country’s economy in shape.

He first suggested that workers be divided into two groups: one group that works on even-numbered days and the other works on odd-numbered days.

Another suggestion he offered is to have employees work and sleep in factories and not return to their families, to reduce their movement.

A third suggestion is to import test kits to enable people to detect their sickness and quarantine themselves at home. Sawiris downplayed the deadly effect of the coronavirus, saying “it only kills 1 percent of patients, who are mostly elderly people”.

When the TV show host corrected Sawiris that the actual percentage of deaths in Egypt is 6 percent, he said that Egypt still has one of the lowest numbers of cases globally. Egypt’s health ministry on Sunday reported 609 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths.

The comments triggered a barrage of criticism by Egyptian commentators and human rights advocates, some of whom called on the businessman to donate a portion of his wealth to support workers during the crisis.