July 14, 2020 / 3:08 PM / in a month

Egypt offers reusable face masks in state subsidy scheme

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has started offering reusable cotton face masks at around $50 cents each alongside the food items provided in its state subsidy programme, as it seeks to make protective gear more widely available to curb the coronavirus.

Egypt subsidizes items such as bread, rice and sugar for more than 60 million people and has added masks to its list of essential goods, with a limit of 2 per family.

“There was (an opportunity) to use supply outlets and the presence of supply cards with 22 million families to offer the masks,” said supply ministry spokesman Ahmed Kamal.

“At 8.5 Egyptian pounds per mask, the price is very accessible for the public ... private companies sell similar masks for between 15 and 20 pounds,” he said, adding that authorities aim to distribute 19 million masks by the end of July.

Egypt’s state buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities, better known for importing huge tonnages of wheat bought on international markets, was tasked with procuring the masks from local suppliers, including the military production ministry.

An initial 40 million masks, vetted for safety, will be made available between July and August but authorities plan to increase the amount later, Kamal said.

In May, Egypt announced fines of about $250 for people not wearing masks in public.

“I am prepared to leave a kilo of rice or a kilo of sugar, and take a mask, because this is protection for all of us,” said Tarek, a Cairo citizen who gave only his first name as he stood outside a grocer selling subsidized items.

Egypt has so far registered 83,000 coronavirus cases including 3,935 deaths.

Reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Nadeen Ebrahim; Additional reporting by Sayed Sheasha; Editing by Giles Elgood

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