Earlier this week the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) issued a report stating that Egypt had the highest coronavirus death rates in the region, followed by Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
The report added that regional states had reported five million Covid-19 cases and 123,725 deaths between 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021.
Minister of Health Hala Zayed opted not to comment on the WHO figures. The Ministry of Health’s own report of cases, deaths and recoveries meanwhile showed that on average there had been 1,000 new cases and 50-57 deaths a day in the past week and that by the end of December 2020 the number of Covid-19 deaths in Egypt totalled just over 7,500.
Zayed said the official figures include patients who displayed symptoms and went to government hospitals for PCR testing and do not include symptomatic cases who do not go to government hospitals or self-quarantine at home. According to Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, such unregistered cases could be 10 times more than registered cases.
Two days after the WHO report the website of the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) published a survey, “Rest Assured”, saying Egypt ranked 62 out of 215 states in terms of reported Covid-19 cases, 11 in terms of death ratios and 141 in terms of recovery rates.
On Monday, the Health Ministry reported 961 new Covid-19 infections, down from 993 on the previous day, meaning Egypt has now reported a total of 150,753 confirmed cases of Covid-19. The ministry also reported 52 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 8,249. Daily infections have been on the decline since the beginning of this week.
The Ministry of Health has already begun to implement a presidential initiative to monitor self-quarantining cases. The initial rollout, which covers Cairo, Giza and Qalioubiya, will gradually expand as supplies of blood oxygen measuring devices become available.
The former director of a public fever hospital said Egypt’s Covid-19 cases and death rates should not be a cause of undue concern and remained strikingly better than those in Europe or North America even when unregistered cases are taken into account. He pointed out that doctors and health administrators are now required to issue a death certificate stating the cause of death as Covid-19 whenever the deceased displayed symptoms, regardless of whether they tested for the virus or not.
The former official argued the number of new cases had dropped in the first 10 days of 2021 because of the threat of on-the-spot fines being levied on anyone who does not take the mandated precautionary measures which include wearing face masks in public spaces, and reducing the number of people allowed in public venues.
“These measures are the only way we have right now to reduce infection and limit the spread of the virus,” the source said.
The director of a government cardiology centre says that because symptoms vary greatly the situation is likely to remain unclear for some time.
“Some patients with underlying conditions have contracted Covid-19 and recovered, and some healthy people have died after falling ill,” he pointed out. There is also enormous disparity in the length that symptoms can last.
“It is similar to the AIDS virus,” said the source. “Researchers spent nearly 20 years studying the make-up of the virus. And until we discover more details about this devastating coronavirus we must focus on protecting frontline workers in the medical profession so they can continue their work.”
Both sources agree with Zayed who, during a news conference held this week at the headquarters of operations to manage the Covid-19 outbreak, said that the rate of new cases had dropped by 21 per cent between the last week of December and the second week of January. In the same period, daily recovery rates rose by five per cent, rates of Covid-19 hospitalisations fell by 11 per cent and the daily rate of patients needing ICU dropped by eight per cent. The number of suspected cases going to hospital also shrank by 15 per cent.
The government will start its vaccination programme in February, Zayed said in a televised interview on Monday. Healthcare workers and the country’s most vulnerable citizens will be first in line for the vaccine.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.