Overcoming COVID-19: Stay Connected

“In times of national crisis, competitive activities are halted and efforts are concerted, placing the supreme interest of our country above all, that is the only element around which we all come together.” Amr Talaat, Minister of Communications and Information Technology

In response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and the challenges that many Egyptians are facing, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has taken the following measures, in collaboration with its affiliates, to support the State’s plan for curbing the spread of COVID-19.

1. Cooperation with Ministry of Health:

- Increasing the number of hotlines and providing the Ministry of Health with free hotlines to attend to citizens’ inquiries on COVID-19, in addition to hotlines for relief operations and post recovery consultations. All health-related hotlines are provided at free toll.

- Increasing the number of call center agents to attend to calls and inquiries pertaining to COVID-19, to avoid long waiting periods.

- Introducing and managing telemedicine to connect health units in remote areas with central hospitals, in 300 health nodes nationwide, 14 of which are in isolation hospitals. Telemedicine plays a pivotal role in fighting COVID-19, mainly by raising awareness of the proper protective behaviors and safety measures among residents in remote areas. It also helps provide medical consultation for patients and training for medical staff in isolation hospitals.

- NTRA agreed with the four mobile operators to grant all doctors, nurses and staff working in isolation hospitals, a free airtime of 3,000 minutes and 10 gigabytes per month, in appreciation of their huge efforts.

- Telecom Egypt (TE), Orange and Etisalat Misr launched an initiative for supporting the health sector and isolation hospitals, through providing 12 ventilators, as well as medical and preventive supplies, sanitization and protection tools, to cover the needs of 200 medical staff members for a month, to keep them safe as they do their jobs. Supplies include preventive clothing, medical masks, face and head shields, medical gloves and other necessary supplies.

2. Promotion of Distance Learning, Freelancing and Remote Work

- Providing all school and university students free access to all educational websites during the suspension of education, without deduction from the internet bundle. This was achieved in collaboration with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

- Supporting formal and informal learning with a track record of developing and delivering a wide array of state-of-the art e-Learning courses, web communication and e-content. This is in addition to setting and disseminating the quality standards of e-Learning, providing best practice research and expert consultancy in e-Learning and engendering the first waves of facilitators and e-trainers into the market.

- Increasing the download quota of home internet packages by 20% to cover the students’ needs in browsing different educational platforms and websites, in coordination with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This came at a total cost of EGP 200 million borne by the State.

In addition, a number of initiatives and programs were launched to promote distance learning, freelancing and remote work:

- MCIT has launched "Our Digital Opportunity" initiative, during an e-session, to establish partnership between the government and the private sectors and develop small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The initiative involves a digital platform that provides information on national digital transformation projects to SMEs.

- The Information Technology Institute (ITI) has launched the “Freelancing and Remote Work Initiative” that aims to train young people on freelancing and remote work skills, and make available decent income opportunities, in collaboration with a number of freelancing platforms.

- MCIT has launched the “Youth Enablement for Freelancing” initiative, with the aim to train 20,000 young people, nationwide, on freelancing skills, through e-platforms.

- ITIDA has launched the “Future Work is Digital (FWD)” initiative, to train the young people on advanced, in demand IT areas. 

- MCIT Central Department for Community Development has organized online training programs for female entrepreneurs on social media marketing skills, using eLearning applications, as part of the ongoing activities of Qodwa-Tech initiative.

- The first online training program on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Aswan University was launched through an online meeting, within the framework of implementing the cooperation protocol between MCIT and Huawei Technologies. The protocol aims at providing training on digital transformation areas, including data networks, cybersecurity, AI, 4G, 5G, cloud computing, big data and fiber optic networks.

Furthermore, MCIT and its affiliated entities continued their efforts in providing all their training programs, initiatives and activities online:

- The Software Engineering Competence Center (SECC) has organized a number of 23 online workshops, titled "Digital Transformation for Government Leaders," under the auspices of the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), for 310 leaders from 15 governmental entities.

- The e-Learning Competence Center (ELCC) organized, in May, a technical training session for the faculty members at Aswan University to help them upload their e-content and make optimum use of e-learning.

- ITIDA, represented by Sector B5, organized, in June, “Startup Clinic - Hardware Startups: The Journey”, online, in partnership with Flat6Labs Cairo, TIEC and ITIDA.

- MCIT participated in the fifth webinar organized by the government of the Republic of Korea on the Korean experience in tackling the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in June.

- MCIT held, in July, a panel discussion titled “eLearning in Egyptian Universities: Opportunities and Challenges,” via Webex. The panel discussion assessed the experience of using eLearning systems in university education and dealing with the challenges of the next phase, to ensure their efficiency in Egyptian universities.

- MCIT Central Department for Community Development organized, in July, the Financial Accounting Skills for Craftswomen training program, in collaboration with Microsoft Egypt and Care Egypt Foundation (CEF), using distance learning applications, as part of the ongoing activities of Qodwa-Tech initiative for women’s empowerment.

3.  Initiatives for Encouraging Citizens to Stay at Home for Longer Periods:

- Providing all home internet subscribers with additional 20% of their internet quota (minimum of 30 gigabytes).

- NTRA agreed with the mobile operators to promote the use of e-transactions by offering several incentives for customers setting off their bills and topping up their balances via e-payment methods. Citizens receive 30 times the charged balance as free airtime.

- NTRA adopted a number of measures to limit the use of mobile phone balance recharging traditional methods, such as scratch cards, and replace them with e-payment methods, in coordination with the four mobile operators.

4. Community Service Efforts:

- NTRA coordinated with the four mobile operators to participate equally in providing staple food to 250,000 families (an average of one million citizens) who are adversely affected by the preventive measures of COVID-19. This comes within the framework of the social responsibility initiative launched by the Egyptian Food Bank to support irregular earners suffering the economic repercussions of COVID-19 preventive measures.

5. In-Office Measures:

- NTRA called on the telecom operators to take the necessary preventive measures for facing COVID-19 and providing a safe work environment, with ensuring continuity of work. This included raising awareness of employees of the important precautions that should be followed to avoid the infection, and using the necessary equipment for measuring the body temperature for all employees.

- Performing regular sterilization and disinfection of all offices, surfaces and tools used by employees throughout the day.

- Observing a work from home policy for staff members whose work nature allows them to finalize their tasks from home.

- Suspending the fingerprint staff attendance system at both MCIT and NTRA premises.

- Halting all physical meetings and holding virtual meetings through difference video conference techniques.

- Using infrared thermometers at MCIT premises, as well as its affiliates, to measure the body temperature of all staff and visitors, on daily basis.

6. Measures for Facilitating Service Delivery for Citizens:

- Increasing the number of post offices operating for evening shifts, from 350 to 2000 offices nationwide. This is to avoid overcrowding, especially during pension disbursement.

- Extending the payment period of landline phone bills without interruption of service.

- Encouraging electronic and online payment of utilities. Bills could also be settled through post offices for those who are uncomfortable of using digital services

7. Measures for Helping Economically Affected Citizens

- Disbursing the irregular employment aid, decided by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to those suffering the repercussions of COVID-19, through post offices, without congestion.

- Developing a comprehensive plan to facilitate disbursing the irregular employment aid through 4,000 post offices nationwide, with extending the working hours in main post offices nationwide to include an evening shift, from 1 to 5 pm.

- Coordinating with a number of ministries, including the Ministry of Local Development and the Ministry of Education, to dedicate around 600 schools and youth centers to serve as additional disbursement outlets, to ease access of beneficiaries to the aid without congestion.

- Granting an EasyPay card to each beneficiary, to use it to receive the aid, for two months. The aid amounts are automatically added to the card, according to the disbursing schedule, for each age group, separately. Using the card, citizens can receive the aid through any ATM machine or post office nationwide. It can also be used for purchasing from selling outlets.

- Beneficiaries are apportioned among different post offices nationwide, with each citizen receiving the aid from the nearest post office. They are also apportioned according to age groups.

8. Measures for Helping Persons with Disabilities

- The National Relay Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing launched a service for answering the inquiries of the deaf and hard of hearing on COVID-19 through Wasel mobile application. The service is available 24/7, including providing support to those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, through connecting them to the responsible government agency to receive the necessary healthcare.

- MCIT launched an automated testing service of COVID-19 symptoms with a chatbot that uses the sign language capitalizing on Artificial Intelligence (AI). The service is enabled to the deaf and hard of hearing through Wasel mobile application and Tamkeen website.

- The National Academy of Information Technology for Persons with Disabilities (NAID) has organized a series of webinars, titled “Role of ICT in coping with COVID19 and its effect on Persons with Disabilities (PwDs)”. Online sessions tackled a number of topics, including how to utilize project management to manage your life, how to build on your competence, not your CV, and the telemedicine and future of healthcare, thus helping PwDs find better opportunities in life, especially with the spread of COVID-19.

- NAID also organized a series of webinars for African young people in collaboration with the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) in Nigeria and Cisco Kenya, with the aim to shed light on how PwDs can cope with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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