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Egypt & Covid-19

My husband and I were inspired by both Rick Steves and Bettany Hughes to travel to Egypt. Egypt had been a bucket list item, and last April we decided to book due to the fact that Egypt had been open for travel for quite some time when other countries weren’t. We decided that we would take extra covid tests so we could test throughout our trip and begin a quarantine if necessary. We booked our trip with Egypt and Beyond Travel. Tarek was so helpful with every detail. We ended up with a completely private tour including a private guide and driver throughout our trip. This helped us feel better about our covid risk and was one of the reasons why we didn’t cancel our trip when Omicron showed up. Please see my other post “Egypt Practicalities” for non-covid related tips.

QR Code Requirement: Egypt requires a QR code on your PCR test results for entry into the country. There weren’t any testing sites in my area that provided a QR code on the results. I created a QR code that linked to our results and printed it right on the paper that I printed our results on. As we were flying from Frankfurt to Cairo, I visited with the young Egyptian woman sitting next to me, and I asked her about the QR code. She said that it seems to be all for show and that they are not going to take the time to scan the code when we enter Egypt. She was exactly right. They have a quarantine desk that you pass by as you enter, and the person there takes a look at your PCR test result. He did not scan our code. It seemed to be that if there was a QR code on your paper, you were good. If there wasn’t, they stopped you and questioned you. I don’t know what happened to those people who didn’t have a QR code on their results. My advice would be that if your results don’t have a code, create one yourself, link it to your results, and print it on your paper.

Mask Requirement: Egypt has a mask requirement. Inside museums, buildings, the airport, etc. we saw signs that said that masks were required. Many, many people did not wear masks. When I visited with a local woman about this, she said that many Egyptians just ignore the rule and don’t take it seriously.

We had the unfortunate experience of flying from Cairo to Aswan (we went on to Abu Simbel) with a large school group of 15-16 year olds. When we all were waiting at the gate, most of them were not wearing masks. I approached the woman in charge of the students and asked her politely if she would please ask the students to put on their masks. She also was not masked. She nodded that she would, and I did see her make an attempt, although I would describe it as feeble, to ask the students to put on their masks. As we boarded the plane, many were still not masked (including the other adults in charge and other passengers who were not associated with the school group) and the flight attendants did not ask anyone to put on their mask.

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We sat in our seats and watched person after person board without a mask on. We were very uncomfortable with this because it was a domestic EgyptAir flight for which no one had to be tested to fly. We called a flight attendant over and asked her if everyone could be told to put their masks on. She said yes, and started asking a few people to put masks on. We were sitting there just shaking our heads. After a few more minutes, WE started telling the students passing us to put their masks on. When we told them, they did, but I’m sure after they reached their seats behind us, the masks came off. After takeoff, the students had social hour on the plane, standing in the aisles videoing each other, taking photos, and eating, most unmasked. The flight crew said nothing to them.

After about 15 minutes of this, I took out my cell phone and shot video (just from my seat) of the people on the plane without masks. A flight attendant promptly came over to me and told me that I couldn’t video them. I thought this was interesting since I’m sure I was in some of their videos but she said nothing to them about not videoing us. We asked her why the airline was doing nothing about the people not wearing masks. She replied again, that I couldn’t video them. We both said then tell them to put their masks on!! A short while later, there was an announcement telling everyone on board to wear their mask. The flight attendants then came through the cabin and told those without masks to put them on. Too bad it had to take an American shooting video for the airline to tell people to put their masks on. After all this, I would estimate that a fourth of the people on the plane still were not wearing a mask.

PCR Test: We had purchased the proctored Binax Now antigen tests for our return trip to the USA. The requirement at the time of our trip was that you need to test no more than 1 day prior to returning. Tarek had already arranged a lab tech to come to our cruise ship to take our samples for a PCR test before returning. I emailed and told him that we don’t need a PCR test because of the new requirement to be tested one day before returning. He said that the airlines are still going to want the PCR test. I thought otherwise, but we went ahead and paid for the PCR tests anyway. The samples were taken, and the company representative printed the results for us. When she took us to the Cairo airport, sure enough, they demanded to see a PCR test at the check in counter. Another woman who apparently did not have the right kind of test was in a heated argument with the check in agent. Then as we went through another checkpoint, they demanded the PCR test again. Finally, the airline agents asked for our PCR test results a third time. Boy, were we glad we went ahead and did the PCR tests! If your travel company recommends that you get a PCR test to leave Egypt, listen to them! We didn’t need the PCR results in Zurich to board our plane to the US–the antigen test results were sufficient for that. But we sure needed them to get out of the Cairo airport!

Unexpected Exposures: One of the reasons why we chose to move ahead with our trip even after Omicron hit was that we thought we would be outside much of the time. While this was true, there were some times that we didn’t anticipate being inside with so many unmasked people. For example, when we were inside the tombs at the Valley of the Kings, people were shoulder to shoulder and most were unmasked. We wore KN95 masks any time we were inside and when we were in our private van. Even so, we were still uncomfortable with some of the situations at the sites. We would have spent more time in the tombs were it not for so many unmasked people.

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Overall, I would say that if you are considering a trip to Egypt during covid-19, know that you will probably be exposed due to the low mask requirement compliance in Egypt. I would estimate that one-third of the people we encountered inside a building or on the domestic flights we took inside Egypt wore a mask. Get a PCR test before you fly out of Egypt even though it seems expensive and unnecessary. Print a QR code on your test results (to enter Egypt) even if you have to make it yourself. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a private message.

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Thank you for posting your experience. Before the omicron outbreak, I had actually begun to look at travel possibilities for late 2022, but likely really into 2023. Egypt is one of the places my spouse would love to visit. At that time, I Googled to see % vaccinated, and the low number made me realize it was not a place to which we would feel comfortable traveling in the foreseeable future (sadly) despite being fully vaccinated/boosted.

I just Googled again, and (IF the source is correct) the assumption based on # of vaccines administered is 26%+/-.

It is disappointing that a trip for which you were so hopeful turned out to be one that sure would have made me feel uncomfortable (unmasked crowds in tombs, unmasked passengers on the internal plane travel, etc.) I hope your and your travel partner have not had any adverse impact from the likely exposure to covid.

It is important that other travelers learn from your in-the-country experience. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

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Maggie, Yes! I hope this post will help others make their decision on whether or not to travel to Egypt. We asked our guide about vaccinations, and she said that there is not vaccination reluctance like there is in the USA, but that people just haven't gotten the shots because it's not convenient nor is it their first priority on a day-to-day basis. After visiting and seeing how the villagers (our guide's term, not ours) live, I can now understand why they haven't been vaccinated. Earning and living and feeding their families is higher on their priority list. I also don't know how extensively the government reaches out to the village populations to provide the vaccine. When your primary mode of transportation is your own two feet, a mule, or a horse, you are not going to spend the day traveling to and from Cairo to get a shot.

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Maggie, to try to lessen our chances of catching covid, we double masked on all the planes. We tested negative (PCR and antigen) when leaving Egypt. We will take PCR tests tomorrow to make sure we didn't catch covid on the way home. No symptoms or negative effects yet! Though, honestly, I don't know how we didn't catch it while there with all the unmasked people!