Egypt past the peak? Possible reasons behind the decline in coronavirus infections

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 15 Jul 2020

A woman wearing a protective mask looks on as people wait to make withdrawals outside a branch of Commercial International Bank (CIB), amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt.(Reuters)

“Egypt may have passed its peak infection rate and could be entering the flattening phase of daily cases ahead of a gradual drop during July, August, and possibly through September,” Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said on Saturday.

Abdel-Ghaffar’s statement came as Egypt’s daily toll of infections began to flatten. According to Hossam Hosni, the head of the Scientific Committee to Combat Coronavirus, infection figures need to stabilise for at least a week before it can be said that Egypt is past the peak.

Egypt’s record of daily coronavirus cases — 1,774 — was recorded on 19 June. Since the reopening of the country on 27 June the daily figure has stabilised, hovering between 900-1,000 infections since last week.

Comparing the number of infections in the last week of June to the first of July, Health Minister Hala Zayed said that 10,518 coronavirus cases were detected nationwide between 23 and 29 June but the figure went down to 8,404 cases between 30 June and 6 July.

Al-Ahram Weekly visited the Fatimid Cairo Hospital, one of the 376 isolation hospitals designated by the Health Ministry to ease the burden from fever and chest hospitals, and found the decrease in infection rates reflected on the ground.

“We used to receive between 4,000 to 5,000 people a day half of whom, after CT scans, could be classified as suspected cases. Now the daily number does not exceed 1,000,” an otolaryngologist at Fatimid Cairo Hospital told the Weekly.

Since the beginning of June the Health Ministry has used clinical examination results, chest x-rays, and laboratory analyses to identify suspected cases of coronavirus. Patients testing positive start receiving treatment immediately after the PCR test result is available.

The otolaryngologist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that during his 24-hour working shift on Monday the hospital was visited by 700 patients “none of whom were diagnosed with the infection”.

The majority of the Fatimid Cairo Hospital’s 64 beds, which used to be filled with coronavirus patients, are now vacant, and there are only 12 patients isolated in the hospital.

At the French Qasr Al-Aini Hospital, which has 200 beds and which was designated as an isolation hospital in April, there are currently 24 isolated coronavirus cases, physician Hani Fekri wrote in a Facebook post.

As late as mid-June, Health Ministry hospitals which provide coronavirus tests and treatments free of charge were almost full, leading to complaints about a shortage of hospital beds.

Ayman Al-Sebai, a health researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said that three weeks ago the EIPR would receive between 150 to 180 questions and/or complaints a day. “These days we only receive from five to 10,” Al-Sebai told the Weekly.

The decrease, said the EIPR researcher, has paralleled the reopening of the country which many feared would be accompanied by a spike in cases.

On 27 June the cabinet decided to lift restrictions in place since March, allowing cafés, cinemas, restaurants and gyms to reopen at 25 per cent capacity. The night-time curfew was cancelled, though the public has been told to keep wearing facemasks and maintain social distancing.

Al-Sebai said that it “is a good sign” that life has returned to relative normality while the number of daily infections has not increased.

Abdel-Ghaffar suggested the decrease in the number of cases is a result of citizens adhering to precautionary measures, and warned against complacency.

The otolaryngologist agreed, adding that the warm weather is also likely to have reduced the strength of the virus.

“Currently, the symptoms that are being presented are weaker than before and some families prefer to be treating infected members at home. They may not be accounted for in the ministry’s official numbers of cases,” the doctor said.

Al-Sebai said that while it has not been confirmed that coronavirus is affected by the rising temperatures, the possibility cannot be discounted.

A recent paper on clinical infectious diseases linked higher temperature with lower rates of coronavirus infection.  The paper’s authors concluded: “The incidence of disease declines with increasing temperature up until 11 degrees Celsius, and is lower at warmer versus cooler temperatures. However, the association between temperature and transmission is small and transmission is likely to remain high at warmer temperatures... if containment measures are relaxed.”

The average summer temperature in Egypt is 30-40 degrees Celsius.

Al-Sebai argues that the important thing now is the daily death toll, which should also see a decrease.

According to a statement by the Health Ministry last week Egypt, which had its first coronavirus fatality on 8 March, is currently seeing a stable death rate of 4.5 per cent from the respiratory virus. Nevertheless, Sunday saw 89 fatalities, a relatively high number given that the highest single-day death toll recorded so far was 97 on 15 May.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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