This week saw growing concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus in Egypt to replace the possible insouciance of a few days earlier when many had done little but joke about the matter.
But that was before the Ministry of Health and Population announced the detection of further coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections in Egypt to 59. On 6 March, the ministry reported the first fatality in the case of a German tourist, 60, who had been admitted to hospital in Hurghada shortly after his arrival to Egypt.
Plenty of rumours were circulated in the meantime, some about where new cases had been found and others on whether schools or other institutions would be shut or not. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the government was denying that schools would be closed.
However, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has suspended events involving large gatherings or those involving the movement of large numbers of people between governorates.
The regulation includes local moulids, or religious festivals, several of which were planned for this month. Several other events were cancelled this week, and the Luxor Festival for African Cinema has cancelled public screenings.
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that “depending on their context, countries with Covid-19 community transmission could consider closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings, and other measures to reduce exposure,” referring to the scientific name of the new coronavirus.
Khaled Megahed, official spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Cairo, said that among Egypt’s 59 cases, 45 were detected among foreign tourists aboard a Nile cruise. “The whole cruise was put under quarantine. The ministry examined the tourists, and those who tested positive for Covid-19 were taken by military plane to the Al-Negeila Quarantine Hospital in Marsa Matrouh.”
The tourists were infected by a Taiwanese-US national who returned to Taiwan in February after travelling on the cruise ship. At a press conference, Megahed said 21 of the cases had already recovered, while the others were still receiving medical treatment.
In order to screen incoming individuals, Megahed said devices would be imported and distributed to airports nationwide. In its efforts to contain the spread of the virus, the Health Ministry has also stepped up the inspection of hotels.
The cabinet issued a statement on Tuesday in which it said that national carrier EgyptAir had decided to resume some flights to Saudi Arabia to bring back Egyptian nationals stuck in the country after a decision by the Saudi authorities to halve flights to and from Egypt over increasing worries over the new coronavirus.
Two flights will operate a day from Jeddah to Cairo, and some other flights will be operating from Medina, Riyadh, Dammam, Qassim, and Abha to Cairo. In addition, the Saudi embassy in Cairo also allowed flights from Egypt to Saudi Arabia on 10 and 11 March to return Saudi nationals to Saudi Arabia after they had been stuck in Egypt when the authorities shut down flights.
Saudi Arabia has suspended travel by its nationals and residents to nine countries, including the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, Italy, and Iraq in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said that the authorities had been taking all the necessary measures to slow down the spread of the virus, as more than 7,000 cases had been confirmed in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia also announced that all arrivals from countries that had recorded infections would need to submit polymerase chain reaction (PCR) certificates. Following the announcement, thousands of Egyptians clamoured in front of the Ministry of Health’s central laboratories in Cairo in order to undergo the required test.
The test determines whether the virus is present in the blood and if so in what quantity.
Kuwait has also temporarily suspended flights to Egypt from 6 to 13 March. The suspension also includes seven more countries, among them Lebanon, Syria, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.
According to the WHO, the global death toll from the new coronavirus is now around 3,800, with some 110,000 confirmed cases since Covid-19 first emerged in China in late December.
The coronavirus has already crossed into 110 countries. However, during the WHO’s daily press briefing on Monday Ghebreyesus said there were reasons for optimism. “Of the four countries with the most cases, China is bringing its Covid-19 epidemic under control, and there is now a decline in new cases being reported from Japan,” he tweeted.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly