March 9, 2020 / 5:50 PM / a month ago

RPT-Egypt steps up coronavirus checks after outbreak in Luxor

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* Egypt has reported 55 coronavirus cases

* Forty-five of these confirmed on cruise ship in Luxor

* Luxor is a popular tourist destination

By Mai Shams El-Din

LUXOR, Egypt, March 9 (Reuters) - Egypt has stepped up action to contain the coronavirus in the popular tourist destination of Luxor following an outbreak of the disease on a River Nile cruise ship.

At least 45 coronavirus cases have been detected on the ship since it arrived in Luxor, and a German tourist who died on Sunday in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada had visited the southern city. Egypt has reported 55 cases in all.

Health authorities started sanitizing hotels and cruise ships in Luxor on Monday and began testing staff and guests for the virus, tourism workers and witnesses said.

Tourists and staff were not allowed in or out of hotel facilities or cruise ships until the health workers finished the sanitization and testing, they said.

Three government ministers visited Luxor on Sunday and toured archaeological sites, hotels and cruise ships to try to reassure travellers that it is safe to visit.

The tourism sector is an important source of hard currency for Egypt and the old and ancient temples, monuments and burial sites in or around Luxor make it one of the country’s top destinations for tourists.

Revenue from tourism in Egypt was a record high $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended last July, according to central bank figures.

The government also decided on Monday to suspend events in Egypt that include big gatherings, hoping to contain the virus. It gave no details but a cabinet source said religious festivals, concerts, exhibitions and seminars would be affected.

IMPACT FEARED ON TOURISM

Archaeological and tourist sites in Luxor were open on Monday and many people were visiting them, Reuters journalists in the city said.

The tourism and antiquities ministry said the flow of tourists “continued regularly and in accordance with the normal visitor rates” in Luxor.

But some tourism workers are worried about the potential impact of the coronavirus on business.

“The industry will definitely be impacted. It is the first time for us to see these measures,” said Ashraf Ismail, manager of a cruise ship in Luxor. “There are cancellations, but not major so far.... We will have to wait and see how this will impact the industry in general.” .

Hamada Mohammed, owner of a tourism company that deals exclusively with tourists from China, where the coronavirus originated, called it “a big catastrophe for us.”

“We have not been working for the past two weeks after the suspension of flights from China. Some companies decided to shut down completely,” he said.

Reporting by Mai Shams El-Din in Luxor; Additional reporting by Momen Said Atallah; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Nadine Awadalla and Timothy Heritage

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