The Egyptian Medical Syndicate has voiced concerns over new guidelines regarding coronavirus examination procedures for medical staff, which state that medical staff are not to undergo testing after having come into contact with infected colleagues unless they themselves are suspected to have contracted the virus.
Under the new guidelines announced in a circular issued by the health ministry's infection control department on Tuesday, tests will not be conducted for those who come in contact with infected medical colleagues unless they themselves display symptoms, and medical staff are not authorised to unilaterally isolate themselves at home or at the workplace.
Instead, health workers who come in contact with positive cases are required to self-assess their case by monitoring their temperature and looking out for respiratory symptoms, after which they are to notify their hospital for examination. Only those suspected to have contracted the virus will take the test and be asked to self-isolate at home.
Under the previous guidelines, the tests were conducted for health workers who had come in contact with positive cases without using the necessary protective equipment, according to the syndicate.
The new guidelines, however, require hospital directors to ensure daily checkups are carried out for all hospital staff by measuring temperatures, observing respiratory symptoms, and upholding infection control measures.
“The [new] instructions... are very dangerous, as they mean that an infected medical staff member showing no symptoms will be allowed to work and interact with others, which will certainly lead to a greater spread of infection among medical personnel, who in turn will transmit the infection to their families and citizens,” the syndicate said in a letter sent to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Health Minister Hala Zayed on Wednesday.
As a result, health workers “will become a source of infection, which will bring about a real medical disaster,” it warned.
The new instructions also require medical facilities where coronavirus cases are detected to be sanitised without being shut down.
The syndicate also criticised the circular for blaming medical staff for getting infected, by claiming that most cases among health workers are directly caused by social interaction between team members in their accommodation, food venues or at places where they rest.
It cited remarks by World Health Organisation Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari in which he said that more than 90 percent of health workers in the region become infected at health facilities where they are exposed to the virus.
The syndicate called on health authorities to quickly revoke the new instructions while ensuring the maximum level of protection and early testing for frontline health workers fighting the disease.
Testing health workers who do not display symptoms by collecting samples for diagnostic tests, rather than relying on rapid testing, is “highly important” to ensure early detection of infections to curb the spread of the disease to more health workers, the syndicate said. It stressed that the measure will be more economically effective, saying the cost of tests is lower than that of treating new infections.
It also called for providing additional testing kits if the current quantity is inadequate.
Egyptian El-Sisi has ordered the allocation of EGP 100 billion ($6.35 billion) to finance a comprehensive plan to tackle the disease, and the government said it had received millions of pounds in donations from businesses and civil society groups.
The health ministry has not provided a tally of doctors who have been infected or died from the flu-like virus so far. The Doctors Syndicate, however, has reported nine deaths and at least 178 infections, according to Kareem Mesbah, a member of the syndicate board.
The Nurses Syndicate said separately that six nurses have so far died from the virus, and the Pharmacist Syndicate recorded its first death from the virus on Tuesday.
Many hospital staff members have taken to social media to complain that hospital managements have been reluctant to conduct tests on them even though they had come into contact with coronavirus patients.
Last month, the syndicate criticised steps taken by healthcare authorities to identify coronavirus cases among medical staff and warned against merely relying on rapid tests when examining medical staff working at quarantine hospitals, saying their results have not proved accurate. It called for widespread staff testing using a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).