“We are now thinking proactively in dealing with the pandemic,” Islam Anan, professor of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics, told Al-Ahram Weekly when asked about the newly-announced initiative by the Health Ministry to register and monitor coronavirus cases isolating at home.
On Monday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said that starting 6 January medical teams would be designated to visit homes and register patients self-isolating who had not passed through the public health system and that 5,400 health units and medical centres nationwide would follow-up on their conditions.
Despite a majority of moderate and mild coronavirus cases in Egypt preferring to be treated at home there has not been an electronic registry to add home-isolated cases to official totals, leading some officials to assert that the real number of infections could be 10 times the number monitored by the Health Ministry.
“Many coronavirus cases are treated at home and don’t appear in the ministry’s daily bulletins. The number of Covid-19 infections may be 10 times the number tracked by the ministry,” Presidential Advisor for Health Affairs Mohamed Awad Tageddin said in a media statement on Sunday.
The newly launched electronic registry, says Anan, “aims to boost accuracy and get closer to the actual numbers which health officials need to know in order to prepare hospitals for the flow of patients.
“The fact is that many moderate home cases today will find their way to hospitals should their conditions deteriorate,” Anan told the Weekly.
Egypt is facing the second wave of the coronavirus and has seen a rebound in the number of daily cases. Starting 31 December, for four consecutive days, the Health Ministry has reported more that 1,400 new cases daily.
“The infection curve is worrying and it is expected that daily casualty figures will increase during January. I expect the second wave of the pandemic to recede in April,” said Anan. “For now it is essential people adhere strictly to preventative measures.”
The cabinet recently introduced a series of new precautionary measures, including the imposition of an immediate LE50 fine on citizens who do not wear face masks in closed public places and metro and railway stations. First-term exams in schools and universities have been postponed to after the end of the first semester vacation, on 2 January all classes remaining in the first semester of the current academic year were moved online, and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli has stressed the importance of implementing cabinet decisions reducing the number of employees on duty in ministries and government bodies.
On Sunday, Zayed said occupancy rates in the country’s 101 isolation, fever, and pulmonology hospitals, which are fully equipped to deal with coronavirus patients, stood at 40-45 per cent. ICU unit occupancy has reached 60 per cent and ventilator capacity is currently 42 per cent.
Ashraf Al-Fiqi, a clinical research and immunology consultant in Washington, wrote on his Facebook page that Egypt probably has “a new coronavirus patient every single minute”.
“It is not possible for us to sit and wait for the escalating curve of cases to break by itself… if it breaks on its own it will break in March or April after it claims tens of thousands of lives,” Al-Fiqi said.
He asked the cabinet to impose stricter protective measures, including the re- imposition of a curfew, a lockdown in Cairo and Alexandria, and the cancelling of sports and entertainment activities in clubs.
“During the first wave, a state of fear and caution prevailed among citizens, although cases were less than they are now. We need to recapture this positive caution through launching awareness campaigns that include testimonies of those who have recovered and been released from intensive care in which they narrate their experience,” said Anan.
On Saturday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the intensification of awareness programmes on preventing infection. Earlier in November, the president affirmed that the lockdown that was implemented during the first wave would not be re-imposed as long as the public adhered to safety measures.
Also on Saturday, Al-Sisi directed the Tahya Misr (Long Live Egypt) Fund to support the distribution of coronavirus vaccine to the most vulnerable groups, and ordered a nationwide network of centres to be set up to administer the vaccine.
On the same day, Zayed said the Egyptian Drug Authority had approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use. Egypt received its first batch of the vaccine via the UAE on 10 December.
The health minister said a nationwide vaccination campaign will be rolled out in the second and third weeks of January.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.