A Canadian researcher's groundless assumptions

Ashraf Amin, Monday 16 Mar 2020

In the past few hours Twitter was abuzz with a list of threads published by Canadian MD Isaac Bogoch claiming the number of Egyptians carrying COVID-19 are 19,000 cases on average, based on a mathematical model and an assumption of the number of tourists visiting Egypt in February.

The tweets were used as scientific evidence in stories published in the Guardian and the New York Times.

Declan Walsh, Cairo bureau Chief of the New York Times, wrote that he removed the Canadian study tweet, adding that the higher and lower numbers are estimates.

Bogoch confirmed that his manuscript was rejected by a preprint site and that he had to publish the data on Twitter because peer-reviewed magazines take time.

Through his response to the questions asked by several virologists and scientists about the poor work methodology and the process of gathering information, Bogoch wasn't convincing when he defended his claim. In his first tweets about the subject, he claimed that the average number of COVID-19 cases in Egypt is 19,000 with a range of estimates of 54,000.

In later tweets he claimed that the estimate is close to 6,000 cases. Commenting on the Canadian manuscript, Ramy Karam Aziz, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cairo University, tweeted that genomic evidence was missing to support the claim of transmission and the anecdotal stories about returning tourists needed some information about how long they were on tour and which other countries they had visited, especially that often countries like Israel Turkey, Jordan and Greece are parts of these tours.

Nasser Hassan Sweilem, a professor of numerical analysis at the Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Science, Cairo University, said it is unethical to circulate data as facts without being published in peer-reviewed journals. He added that if the study is rejected, then these assumptions do not have a scientific basis and shouldn't be taken seriously.

On another note, John Jabbour, WHO representative in Egypt, acknowledged in an interview with the CNN today the efforts of the Egyptian government to contain the occurrence of symptoms in tourists and the controlling process to reduce the spread of the virus within the community. Jabbour added that Oman and Egypt are the only countries in the region with strong base surveillance system.

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