Egypt reported its highest daily record of COVID-19 infections since January at the weekend, exceeding some 1,200 cases. Experts say that the country is climbing the curve of its third coronavirus wave and is expected to witness the peak starting next week.
Ashraf Al-Fiki, a clinical research expert and former fellow of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), believes the peak will come on 25 May. Islam Anan, an epidemiology lecturer at Misr International University in Cairo, said the infection numbers could reach 1,400 cases daily during the peak.
“Egypt’s daily infections are expected to step up during next week, and the third wave’s peak will continue until June. The daily figures are expected to stay steady for two weeks, and then the curve of infections will start to descend, signalling the end of the peak. The third wave should recede by the end of June and beginning of July,” Anan told Al-Ahram Weekly.
In order to limit the spread of infection and reduce the number of cases during the last week of Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the government imposed two-week precautionary measures from 6 to 21 May that included the early closure of cafés, shops, and restaurants, in addition to shutting public beaches and parks.
The measures are subject to renewal or cancellation in a cabinet decision at the end of the period, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said.
Al-Fiki said that although the decision “came two weeks late and was not conclusive, overall it is a step in the right direction.”
Anan agreed that the measures are useful. “On the one hand, they are aimed at reducing infections and most importantly the number of deaths, and on the other hand, they are aimed at raising awareness,” he said.
He said that the measures had caused some people to ask why shops were closed early and parks shut during the holidays, creating awareness of the increased infections. “This can now also be seen in the increased turnout for vaccines,” he commented.
Two weeks ago, Health Minister Hala Zayed urged the public to register online for the vaccine and not fear being inoculated even though some have been reluctant to have the vaccine.
Anan said the ministry’s vaccination website had recorded around 25,000 daily requests, and now had 80,000 to 85,000 registrations daily. “Two million Egyptians have registered online to receive the vaccine and are now on the waiting list,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of 11 May a total of 1,371,976 vaccine doses had been administered in Egypt in a campaign that started in January and uses the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines.
The Health Ministry has recently turned Cairo’s International Exhibition Centre in Nasr City district into a mega vaccination centre that can accommodate 10,000 people daily. The centre is currently operational along with 399 other vaccination units nationwide.
Last week, Egypt received 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and 500,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines to increase its stock to nearly four million doses.
On Monday, Madbouli said that the Long Live Egypt Fund would collect contributions from banks, companies, or other bodies, in addition to what the state treasury has arranged, for the purchase of vaccines. The government has allocated about LE2 billion to the Fund thus far, he said.
Zayed said on the same day that the ministry would start vaccinating prisoners against the coronavirus, adding that it had been agreed with the Federation of Egyptian Industries to set up centres at which workers in industrial complexes would be provided with vaccines.
She said the ministry would provide vaccines to pensioners, and starting next month mobile clinics will be stationed at pension-payment locations nationwide, including bank branches and post offices.
“Over the next few days, it is expected that the raw materials to manufacture two million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine will arrive,” the health minister said on Monday, referring to a deal between state-owned vaccine producer VACSERA and the Chinese manufacturer to locally produce two million doses in Egypt by July and 40 million doses by the end of 2021.
Coordination is ongoing in an effort to locally manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine at VACSERA’s factories in 6 October city, Zayed noted.
Anan said that the vaccine is the first line of defence against COVID-19 infection. “In Egypt, the effects of the vaccine will fully come to light with the fourth wave of the virus,” Anan said, expecting that this would be weaker than its predecessors.
The successful experience of home isolation that had occurred on a large scale during the third wave and the greater access to medicine had increased awareness of when and if home-isolation patients should go to hospital.
The fourth wave would take place when a larger segment of the Egyptian population has been inoculated, he said.
“We have examples from several countries that have vaccinated 20 per cent of their populations and have seen an 80 per cent decrease in the number of deaths, while those who have inoculated from 35 to 50 per cent of their populations have seen a 90 per cent drop,” Anan said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly