More than 400,000 people have registered on the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 vaccination website. Since the vaccination campaign began on 4 March 1,141 people have received their first dose, according to the latest Ministry of Health figures.
“The vaccine reduces the spread of the disease and limits serious or fatal complications,” said Minister of Health Hala Zayed. She assured the public that Covid-19 vaccines in Egypt are 100 per cent safe.
Zayed has warned against an expected surge in the number of Covid-19 infections during Ramadan and over the Eid, when families traditionally gather to break the fast together. Ramadan starts in mid-April.
“We are seeing fluctuations in the number of Covid-19 infections. Familial infections have become more common recently. Family gatherings are best avoided,” said Zayed.
The last few days have seen an increase in cases in the Aswan and Qena governorates. A Ministry of Health official attributed to growth in numbers to people relaxing precautionary measures. The bishop of Qena announced on Sunday that churches in the governorate will close until 3 April.
Ministry of Health Spokesperson Khaled Megahed warned that a third wave of Covid-19 is expected to hit Egypt by the end of this month. Daily infections are currently hovering around 600.
Egypt has reported 190,000 infections since March 2020, and 11,256 Covid-related deaths. A survey conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research, Baseera, however, found that 4.8 per cent of its sample group of adults reported having contracted Covid-19 in the period between March 2020 and January 2021. Translated to the wider population, that means 2.9 million people are likely to have had the virus.
Baseera estimates that 864,000 Egyptians over 18 are likely to have contracted the virus since the beginning of the second wave. Over the same period the Ministry of Health reported a total of 142,187 infections. While Baseera estimates no more than three per cent of people aged between 18 and 29 have been infected with Covid-19, for those aged 50 and above the figure is seven per cent.
Mohamed Saber, a chest physician in a private hospital thinks Baseera’s figures are closer to the actual infection rates than the Ministry of Health’s. “The officially announced figures only include PCR tests conducted in Health Ministry laboratories and hospitals so are likely to be a gross underestimate,” said Saber.
Saber says that while the ministry has so far made vaccines available to limited numbers of health workers, the elderly and the chronically ill, it has yet to announce a clear plan for wider distribution, and there is no clarity on whether the vaccine will be administered free of charge or for a fee.
“Charging the poor for this critical vaccine would undermine the basic human right to health,” said Saber. He argues that to fight the pandemic effectively, the government must either provide the vaccine for free, or ensure that it is priced affordably, i.e. at no more than LE100 for each of the two doses.
Megahed earlier confirmed that health workers would receive the vaccine for free, along with people supported by the Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) cash transfer programmes launched in 2015 to protect the most vulnerable members of society from the fallout of structural economic reforms.
Members of the public can register for the vaccine at the nearest hospital affiliated to the Health Ministry or online via the website http://mohpegypt.com/#/home. After registering on the website, citizens are requested to provide three medical reports determining their health status so vaccines can be prioritised.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Dangers ahead