Egypt’s prime minister has condemned as “disgraceful” a group of villagers who blocked the burial of a doctor who reportedly died with coronavirus.
In a phone call to the woman’s husband, Mostafa Madbouly apologised “on the behalf of the Egyptian people,” state media reported.
Twenty-three people were arrested over the incident in Shubra el-Bahou in the Nile Delta.
They are believed to have feared a body buried with the virus could spread it.
The 64-year-old doctor, Sonia Abdelazim, died on Friday. Reports say she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 disease, though her brother denied this, saying his sister died of pneumonia.
When she was taken for burial, residents refused to allow the ambulance transporting her body to enter the cemetery.
Police were called and fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, before the burial was able to take place, reports say.
Those arrested will be held for 15 days while an investigation takes place.
The incident has been widely condemned, with Public Prosecutor Hamada el-Sawy describing it as a “terrorist act”, according to the Associated Press.
Egypt’s most senior Sunni Muslim cleric, Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, said what had happened was the “farthest as can be of morals, humanity and religion” and called for ending “the stigma of the disease”.
Egypt – the most populous country in the Middle East – has introduced a series of restrictive measures, including a nightly curfew, to try to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Authorities have reported 159 fatalities from the disease, and more than 2,000 cases.