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Monday, 13 July 2020

Coronavirus in Egypt: Keep your distance

The minister of health blames people’s ignoring of social distancing for this week’s rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases

Ahmed Morsy , Thursday 7 May 2020
Keep your distance
Two Egyptians wearing face masks walk along a street before curfew in Shubra El Kheima, Al Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo (photo: Reuters)
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“It began less than a month ago when for a few minutes I came in contact with a work colleague who had coronavirus but at the time was displaying no symptoms,” a 40-year-old married coronavirus patient told Al-Ahram Weekly in a telephone interview.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he usually wore a mask at work, but on that particular day he had left the mask in his car.

Legislation approved by MPs last week now allows health authorities to oblige the public to wear facemasks and take other preventative measures while outside their homes. Non-compliance can result in a fine of up to LE5,000.

“A few days later I developed cold symptoms and visited a doctor who prescribed medicine for flu. Unfortunately I did not recover,” said the father of two. He then decided to self-isolate at home, cutting all interaction with other people, even family members.

When matters did not improve he visited another doctor. “Once the doctor saw my chest CT scan he asked me to head immediately to the nearest fever hospital for a PCR coronavirus test,” said the man.

On 20 April he entered Helwan Fever Hospital, one of 47 fever hospitals nationwide dedicated — alongside 35 pulmonology hospitals — to conducting tests, triage and referral of coronavirus patients.

On Monday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said that 34 fever and pulmonology hospitals would now also serve as isolation facilities, providing treatment and quarantine.

The 34 chosen hospitals, which are being upgraded in three stages, will host coronavirus cases who do not display complex symptoms.

On 25 April, Zayed said Egypt had carried out 200,000 rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus and 90,000 PCR analyses through 27 central laboratories nationwide.

The patient was then transferred to Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan hospital, one of 17 operating quarantine hospitals at the time, where he stayed for two weeks and was treated with Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol. “I noticed that not all cases received the same drugs. Some were prescribed Remdesivir,” he said.

On Monday Zayed said treatment protocols in Egypt were up-to-date and linked to international research, and on 30 April the Ministry of Health announced that it was introducing plasma therapy trials.

“Fully recovered patients will be asked to donate plasma. After working on it, we inject critical cases with this plasma after adding the antibody to it,” Zayed said. She added that “the plasma therapy trial results are promising so far.”

 Two weeks ago the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said convalescent plasma has the potential to lessen the severity, or shorten the length, of illness caused by Covid-19.

“After almost two weeks in the isolation hospital, on 1 May, my health was improving, but my result remained positive,” continued the patient. “They once again transferred me, this time to a hostel in New Cairo, to continue my treatment.”

To free beds at the 17 isolation hospitals for the increasing number of Covid-19 patients, on 23 April the Health Ministry decided to transfer mild coronavirus cases from quarantine hospitals to university hostels.

Despite lockdown measures imposed in March to stem the spread of the virus Egypt had reported more than 6,000 coronavirus cases by Saturday, 2 May. The first case of Covid-19 in Egypt was confirmed on 14 February, and though it took seven weeks to reach the milestone of 1,000 infections on 4 April it has taken just 28 days to move from 1,000 to 6,000 cases.

Ahmed Al-Subki, Assistant Minister of Health, told parliament’s Health Affairs Committee on Monday that more than 900,000 citizens had been traced after being directly or indirectly in contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.

The highest single day spike in cases — 358 — was reported on Friday, 1 May. Zayed told MBC Masr satellite channel that recent rises were within expected levels, and that the cases detected on Friday were the result of more than 6,000 PCR tests.

She attributed recent increases in the number of cases to people’s behaviour outside curfew hours, especially during the two weeks that preceded Ramadan.

According to Zayed, visits to markets decreased by 40 per cent immediately after the crisis erupted, but the fall had been reduced to just 11 per cent during the two weeks preceding Ramadan.

Measures applied by the government since mid-March to contain the pandemic include closing schools and universities, mosques and churches and suspending international flights. The cabinet also imposed a curfew, subsequently eased at the beginning of Ramadan to begin at 9pm instead of 7pm.

Zayed said people will have to adapt to the presence of coronavirus until a vaccine is found, and maintain social distancing.

“It doesn’t matter when the curfew starts, what matters are our habits throughout the day,” she said.

During recent days some restrictions have been relaxed. Car licensing sections at traffic departments, real estate registry offices services and some court services have now reopened.

Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad said people will be able to book hotels starting with the Eid Al-Fitr holiday which begins on 23 May, after the cabinet decided they could reopen as long as social distancing measures were observed. What this means in practice, said Antiquities and Tourism Minister Khaled Al-Enany, is that hotels will be able to accept guests and day-use customers provided they operate at 25 per cent capacity. Hotels will not be allowed to host parties or weddings, or any kind of overnight activity.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  7 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Keep your distance

 

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