Travellers’ temperature scanned at Cairo International Airport (photo: AFP)
More than 300 Egyptians arrived at Alamein airport on 3 February after being airlifted from the Chinese city of Wuhan. The passengers, including 11 children and a pregnant woman, together with the airline crew were sent directly to a hospital in Marsa Matrouh for a period of quarantine.
Minister of Civil Aviation Mohamed Manar told the press on 2 February the Chinese authorities had not allowed two Egyptians to return on the rescue plane because they already had fever. “It is very possible they had ordinary flu yet the Chinese authorities refused to allow their departure,” said Manar.
The passengers and crew will remain at the Marsa Matrouh hospital for 14 days to ensure they are not carrying the virus. Manar said the flight crew had been provided with protective clothing and face masks and that eight doctors were aboard the flight.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation issued a press release on 30 January announcing the national carrier EgyptAir had suspended all flights to and from China. Flights to Hangzhou city were suspended on 1 February and to Beijing and Guangzhou on 4 February. The decision was taken to protect passengers and cabin crew and to avoid coronavirus entering Egypt.
“The suspension decision was taken shortly after the Chinese civil aviation authority announced its own suspension of civil flights in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus,” said the press release.
Meanwhile, Health Ministry Spokesperson Khaled Megahed said the cabinet had called on Egyptians who still want to return from Wuhan to contact the Egyptian embassy on [email protected] or by calling 010 6532 2541.
As of Tuesday morning there were 20,500 confirmed cases of the virus in more than two dozen countries. There have been 425 deaths in China and one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
Megahed reported that a 28-year-old Egyptian citizen from Qena governorate arrived in Egypt from Saudi Arabia on 31 January with a high fever and difficulty in breathing and was quarantined at Sohag Fever Hospital. Throat swaps along with other samples have been sent for analysis. “The young man is in a stable condition and is responding to treatment,” said Megahed.
The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the World Health Organisation, has adopted a number of precautionary measures to prevent the virus from spreading. John Jabbour, the WHO’s representative in Egypt, noted at a press conference on 2 February that “during the SARS outbreak the overall death toll was 349 cases in China.
“This means that the newly discovered virus is aggressive and all concerned authorities all over the world are working under WHO in order to discover a vaccine to combat the deadly virus.”
Egypt has been provided with coronavirus detection kits and similar kits will be distributed among all MENA region countries in order to help limit the spread of the virus, added Jabbour.
The Health Ministry has designated Al-Negela hospital in Marsa Matrouh to receive Egyptians returning from China, the majority of whom are post-graduate students. The ministry, in collaboration with WHO, has prepared three quarantine areas at the hospital. There are several trained teams and nine designated ambulances for receiving travellers from China.
Alaa Eid, head of preventive medicine at the Ministry of Health, says quarantine doctors are manning Egypt’s air and sea ports in order to monitor passengers, especially those returning from countries which have reported cases of the virus.
Eid told Al-Ahram Weekly that there have been no confirmed cases in Egypt.
Minister of Health Hala Zayed has released guidelines on how to deal with the virus, warning travellers who show symptoms to immediately cover their face with a mask and head to the nearest hospital.
The economic fallout from the virus is already being felt with forecasts of slower economic growth for China in the first quarter of the year due to business closures and supply chain interruptions. Egypt’s economy may also suffer as arrivals of Chinese tourists have ground to a halt.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Precautionary advice