The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Egypt increased this week, rising to more than 200 a day.
On 23 April the number of cases rose from 169 to 232. Mohamed Al-Amari, head of parliament’s Health Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that this week it took just six days to report more than 1,000 cases.
Numbers increased from 3,032 on 18 April to 4,534 on 26 April. Al-Amari now expects the next 1,000 cases to be reported in just five days or even less, and anticipates more than 5,000 confirmed cases before the end of the week.
Officials continue to issue reassuring statements, insisting the virus is under control and infection rates remain low compared to other countries.
Minister of Health Hala Zayed said in a cabinet video conference on 23 April that the increase in the number of infections does not mean that Egypt is in the grip of an uncontrollable surge.
“The increase is in line with our expectations, and most of the infections are mild,” said Zayed.
“Egypt is recording 36 infections per million, compared to 335.5 infections per million in many other countries.”
More than 900 patients presenting mild symptoms have now been transferred to student hostels and tourist centres to ease pressure on hospitals where beds are being reserved for patients with severe symptoms.
Awad Tageddin, a former health minister and a current presidential adviser, said in a TV interview on Monday that the increase is still running at a rate of five per cent per week, and deaths at a rate of seven per cent. “This is the rate we have seen since the first case was detected on 14 February, and so there is no sudden vertical surge,” said Tageddin.
According to Tageddin, the increase in the number of infections also reflects the fact that surveillance teams affiliated with the Ministry of Health have got more experience in case detection. “This is good and it generally prevents the spread of the infection,” said Tageddin.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said on 23 April that the government had expected daily infections to exceed 200 per day this week, and stressed that “we are still able to contain the virus.”
He added that Egypt, like many other countries, is looking to review coronavirus restrictions.
“The figures show that 85 per cent of coronavirus patients recover without medical treatment, with only 15 per needing to be admitted to intensive care.
“We have to understand that we are now living with the virus, and the government took the decision to use the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan to start to restore normalcy gradually, though important anti-coronavirus precautionary measures will be maintained.
“We are reviewing the figures every week to assess the various scenarios and their impact on the economy. We have to strike a balance between anti-coronavirus measures and the necessity of getting the wheels of production again,” said Madbouli.
Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad said in a TV interview on 26 April that “restoring normalcy to life in Egypt has become an urgent necessity.
“Egypt cannot bear the economic fallout of anti-coronavirus measures for an extended period of time. Given no one knows for sure when the virus will subside, I expect coronavirus restrictions be gradually lifted,” said Saad, indicating that “most of the citizens in Egypt work in informal economy businesses and they can’t tolerate the restrictions more than one month.
“The government is preparing to resume domestic tourism, and is considering allowing shopping malls, department stores, restaurants and cafés to reopen, as long as they adhere to strict precautionary measures.
“We have to move quickly on all fronts to keep afloat,” said Saad.
On 26 April Madbouli revealed that the government will ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for extra funding.
“While the Egyptian economy has so far proved resilient in the face of the crisis, we need to prepare for the future and so we are seeking IMF support,” said the prime minister.
The new one-year financing package with the IMF aims to help contain the economic impact of the coronavirus and preserve the gains made by Egypt’s economic reform programme (2016-2019), said Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait.
It is anticipated the funding will be mainly directed to bailing out the tourism and aviation sectors.
Al-Amari believes the government has concluded that keeping the current coronavirus restrictions in place is economically unfeasible.
“The economy — and by extension many millions of people — are being harmed. And the government will have noted that many countries, even those with heavy infection rates like Italy, are beginning to reopen.”
Some MPs have expressed fears that too hasty a return to normality could push infections out of control.
“I think the best scenario is for the government to wait until June to see how the crisis develops. Lifting the restrictions hastily could be destructive for the economy and the lives of people in the long run,” argues leftist MP Haitham Al-Hariri.
Many neighbouring states are reporting much higher infection rates than Egypt. In Saudi Arabia and Qatar the number of infections is increasing by almost 1,000 daily.
On 27 April, Egypt ranked 53 out of 215 countries in terms of the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and fourth among the 22 Arab countries, trailing Saudi Arabia with 18,811, Qatar with 10,541 and the United Arab Emirates with 10,500.
The number of infections in Arab Gulf countries is increasing rapidly. Tunisia and Morocco are also recording significant increases, while in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, the figures are decreasing.
In the Arab world, Egypt is surpassed only by Algeria in terms of mortality. Algeria recorded a total of 432 deaths on 26 April, compared to 337 in Egypt.
In comparison with Iran, Turkey and Israel, Egypt also continues to fare well.
Infections in Turkey are now increasing by 2,500 each day. On 27 April Turkey had 107,773 confirmed cases, and the death toll reached 2,801. Iran had recorded 91,472 cases by 27 April, with 5,877 deaths. Recorded cases in Israel reached 15,466, with 202 deaths, on 27 April.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: United we stand