Egypt will receive the remainder of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines as part of the global COVAX agreement within a month, Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Thursday, as she urged caution against a possible rise in infections during the holy month of Ramadan.
Zayed said in a press conference that Egypt will receive the remainder of the first batch of 4.5 million doses of the vaccine under the COVAX agreement “in the coming four weeks.”
Earlier this month, Egypt received 854,400 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine under COVAX, as it continued expanding its immunisation programme in the populous country.
She affirmed the safety of the controversial vaccine amid reports of a risk of blood clotting, stressing that no “unexpected symptoms” have been reported from administering the jab.
Egypt will also receive additional doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in the coming days, which she estimated at up to one million doses.
It has already received around 650,000 doses of the Chinese vaccine, which it currently administers with the AstraZeneca jab.
She also said that the Cabinet has approved the manufacturing of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine locally by state-owned vaccine maker Vacsera, adding that one of the vaccine manufacturer’s factories can produce 20 million doses while the other has a production capacity of 60 million doses annually.
Some of the doses will be exported to Africa, she added.
Zayed said that around 1.1 million citizens from all categories have registered online to receive the vaccine, adding that the ministry has expanded its vaccine centres to 339 nationwide to reach 350 centres in the coming week.
Working hours in the centres will be extended during the fasting month of Ramadan until 10pm to avoid crowding, she said.
She said the ministry will continue to expand to eligible groups in other economic activities, only days after it began rolling out the vaccine for workers in the strategic Suez Canal, workers in its heavily-hit tourism sector, and workers at national carrier EgyptAir.
Egypt hopes that its national inoculation program, which began in March, will help in the recovery of its tourism sector, which has been heavily impacted due to a global suspension and disruption of air traffic since the start of the pandemic last year.
On the pandemic’s situation in the country, Zayed said that citizens have failed in the past period to adhere to preventive measures against the virus, adding that there was a notable rise in infections in the past six weeks.
The governorates of Upper Egypt reported the highest infections in the past period, she said.
The minister urged adherence to preventive measures during Ramadan, which begins next week, warning citizens against family gatherings and other popular rituals during the month to stem the spread of infections.
Egypt saw an unprecedented Ramadan in 2020 as restrictions to contain the outbreak, including an extended overnight curfew in place since March, took a toll on the cherished rituals of Islam’s holiest month.
The temporary shutdown was lifted over the summer, allowing major mosques to reopen for daily prayers later in late June, with weekly Friday prayers resumed in late August.
This year, Egypt announced that it has lifted some of the restrictions for the holy month, including allowing mass night prayers during Ramadan, or Taraweeh, in some mosques with the adoption of preventive measures against the coronavirus.
Taraweeh prayers, considered the most spiritual prayers held during Ramadan, were banned last year as Egypt had stopped in March all congregational religious activities to curb the spread of the virus.
The ban has not been lifted on the organisation of the holy month's charity Iftar banquets nor on solitary retreats in mosques, known as itikaf.
Shrines, community centres, and bathrooms in mosques will remain closed.