Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Image Credit: AP

Cairo:  Cairo: Egypt has amended an emergency law, in force since 2017, giving authorities in the populous country powers to contain the new coronavirus.

Health authorities in the country of about 100 million have so far confirmed a total of 8,476 virus cases including 503 deaths.

President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi Thursday approved the amendments, which give him or his delegates powers to take measures in health emergency situations. They include shutdown of educational institutions, partial or complete suspension of work at government institutions and delay in payments for taxes and public services such as electricity, gas and water.

The amendments, endorsed by the Egyptian parliament on April 22, also allows banning exporting some products, obliges people arriving from abroad to be quarantined and restricting dealing in some unspecified goods. They also provide for offering aid to affected families, individuals and economic sectors.

According to the amendments, published in the Official Gazette this week, military prosecutors are empowered with investigating incidents when army officers are tasked with law enforcement. However, in all cases the country's civilian prosecutors would have the final decision on whether to bring matters to trial.

Authorities are also given powers to restrict meetings, street protests, celebrations and other forms of gatherings.

Some rights groups have criticised the amendments, saying they aim at widening authorities’ emergency powers.

The Egyptian government has denied the claim, saying the changes are aimed at protecting public health and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 mainly on the most vulnerable.

Egypt has already taken a raft of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including the closure of schools, universities, mosques and churches, halting international flights to and from the country and banning large public gatherings.

A nighttime curfew, imposed in late March, is currently in effect daily from 9 pm to 6 am during the current month of Ramadan expected to end on May 24.

Egypt declared a state of emergency in April 2017 in the aftermath of deadly bombings of two Coptic churches. The twin attacks were claimed by the terrorist Daesh group. The emergency state was renewed last month.

-With inputs from AP