Egypt: Survival strategies

Reem Leila , Wednesday 8 Jul 2020

The search continues for a treatment
The search continues for a treatment/photo: Reuters

Two weeks since the lifting of Covid-19 related restrictions on the movement of people and businesses are back to normal hours except for shops and restaurants which close at 9pm and 10pm respectively. Streets are bustling once again after months of nighttime curfew.

“I am finally able to get a dentist’s appointment,” said Nour Hussein, whose dentist could not fit enough patients in the short workday.

Wearing masks and maintaining social distance are key to the reopening. Yet “wearing a mask all day is a nuisance, especially with the heat,” complains Mohamed, a delivery boy. He often rolls his mask down his chin to get fresh air.

“I do not enjoy doing anything with these masks on,” says Nagwa Ali, one of the shoppers at a hypermarket on the outskirts of Cairo. “I often regret going shopping and try to make it as short as possible to be able to get outside and take off the mask.”

While Ali may be able to control how much time she spends within a supermarket, and the distance between her and other shoppers, people finishing off papers at government offices are unable to do the same. Hossam Abdallah put off renewing his ID for as long as he could. When he finally went, he had to spend two hours inside a crammed office in the simmering heat with his mask on.

“Postpone any errand that is unnecessary rather than risk a similar situation,” he advised.

Egypt has had 75,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and around 3,500 deaths. On a positive note, this week the daily reported numbers have fallen from 1,500 to 1,000 cases per day though it is not yet clear whether this is an ongoing trend.

While many believe that the actual numbers of those infected by the virus is much higher than the announced figures, Manal Salem, coordinator of the Health Ministry’s Scientific Committee for Combating Covid-19, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry issues the actual number of new infections, new deaths, and numbers of cured patients.

Sherif Wadie consultant to the minister of health for emergency and intensive care said on TV that the drop in reported cases could be due to people’s and doctor’s increased awareness about the virus and how to deal with it even from home. Wadie warned that people must nonetheless be cautious and continue adopting all precautionary measures.

Egypt’s is currently developing not one, but four Covid-19 vaccines. While approval for human clinical trials has not yet been granted, the National Research Centre affiliated to the Ministry of Higher Education recently announced the completion of pre-clinical trials for one of the four vaccines.

According to Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, a report is being prepared for the Health Ministry’s Scientific and Research Ethics Committee seeking approval for clinical trials. He told the press that the vaccines had been listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) among dozens of candidate vaccines for pre-clinical evaluation worldwide.

Presidential adviser for preventative medicine Mohamed Awad Tageddin said on Sunday that the first effective vaccine against Covid-19 should be available in September if the latest clinical trials succeed.

Official Spokesman to the Ministry of Health Khaled Megahed agreed with Tageddin.

“The ministry is constantly following developments in the global drug market to obtain any global drug or vaccine available for treatment or prevention against the novel Covid-19,” he said.

Until a vaccine is discovered, life must go on. Mohamed Cesar, owner of a café in Cairo’s Al-Remayah district, told Al-Ahram Weekly he now serves customers with paper cups and dishes and plastic utensils so “everything used by customers is disposable.” Cesar, who is abiding by the 25 per cent occupancy rule, says business is not too good.

“It is not easy to return to cafés and restaurants,” says Sarah Ahmed, 20. “It is not only that my parents will not allow me to go, the fact is my friends and I are still afraid. We got used to staying at home, and when we do gather, we prefer open areas.”

Others have adopted a more lenient attitude towards the virus. Sahar Farouk, an engineer and the mother of two adolescents, believes that “eventually, most of us will contract it.

“People are quarantined, isolate at home and get cured. There is no need to panic as long as we follow sterilisation measures. My family and I do not go out unless we are wearing face masks, gloves and have sterilisers with us.”

Gihan Said allows her children to go out to cafés and restaurants wearing face masks and gloves. “At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak it was horrifying. Now we are used to it. We have to coexist or else we will die of fear.”

Amid the public’s conflicting approaches doctors continue to stress the need for precautionary measures. Pulmonologist Adel Mahmoud advises people to eat and drink healthy. “No need to rush to pharmacies looking for vitamins and minerals. They are all available in a balanced diet, and people should refrain from starch and sugar,” he says.

A pharmacy owner in 6 October told the Weekly that there is a severe shortage of vitamin C, Zinc, and immunity drugs due to panic buying. “Face masks, gloves and sterilisers are available, but not vitamins,” he says.

Khairiya Ebeid, another pulmonologist, points out the vitamins and medicines most in demand are available at some pharmacies, but only with a prescription.

“Covid-19 patients get their medicine from hospitals affiliated to the Ministry of Health or named pharmacies. Doctors have a list of pharmacies across the country that sell patients Covid-19 medicines with a prescription.”

Manal Salem, of the Ministry of Health, also confirmed that drugs and medicines are available at named pharmacies.

“It is true there were shortages at some point, but now the ministry has agreed with different drug companies to inject these medicines into the market. What is needed is greater awareness among the public that they should not store these drugs at home, just in case. Thousands out there are in dire need of them already.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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