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Egypt locks down major Red Sea tourist resort

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Cairo (AFP)

Egypt on Tuesday locked down the Red Sea resort of Hurghada where a German tourist died of new coronavirus earlier this month as it battles the spread of the disease.

Hurghada is a magnet for tourists, including divers, who come year-round for its clear waters, coral reefs and unique marine life.

The Red Sea governor, who is based in Hurghada, said a two-week lockdown has been imposed from Tuesday as part of a "national plan" to combat the virus.

The move was aimed "to ensure the safety and well being of citizens from being infected as well as the safety of tourists... until they (can) leave the country", a statement said.

No one would be allowed in or out of the governorate for two weeks, it added.

The new coronavirus has claimed the lives of four people in Egypt, including two German tourists, one of whom became the first fatality in the country after dying in Hurghada.

The 14-day lockdown also affects other resorts in the Red Sea governorate including Marsa al-Alam, where shopkeepers, hotel and restaurant workers were told to stop work and enter quarantine.

On Monday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said "touristic" governorates would be shut down in the coming days as part of draconian measures by authorities to stem the spread of the virus.

"Stepped up preventive measures have been taken and others will come into effect in the coming days, and will restrict mobility," Zayed said on a late-night television show.

She also announced that 300 families were placed under quarantine in a Nile Delta village, after the deaths there of a 72-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man, both of whom were Egyptian.

Zayed did not name the village in the Daqahliya governorate north of Cairo, but said "cleansing procedures" were underway to prevent further infections.

Though Egypt has declared only 166 COVID-19 cases, foreign experts say the number could be much higher, since many foreign tourists caught the disease in Egypt and were diagnosed when they returned home.

Tourism is key to Egypt's economy, with revenues reaching $12.6 billion in 2019 according to the central bank.

As part of its efforts to combat the spread of new coronavirus, Egypt has said it will suspend all flights from Thursday until the end of March.

Authorities have warned of tough measures, including jail terms, for anyone who spreads false information concerning the virus.

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