An end to the fourth wave

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 5 Jan 2022

“The situation in Egypt is currently very stable,” said Presidential Adviser for Health Affairs Mohamed Awad Tageddin on Saturday.

An end to the fourth wave
An Egyptian medical worker checks people's temperatures on the first day of vaccination against COVID-19 in Cairo, Egypt. AFP

Tageddin added that Egypt appears to be at the end of the fourth coronavirus wave.

“In the event that the numbers stabilise for several days and then decline, we will announce the completion of the fourth wave,” he said.

Egypt has seen a decrease in the number of coronavirus infections since last month. While 903 cases were reported on 20 December, by 3 January the figure had fallen to 723.

Islam Anan, a pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics lecturer at Ain Shams University, also expects the fourth wave to reach its end this month.

“The peak in Egypt occurred from late October till November,” Anan told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Anan argues that the rate of deaths is a more accurate measure in predicting the end of the wave rather than reported infection figures. In mid-November, Egypt's deaths from coronavirus infections were hovering around 70 per day, a figure that on Monday had fallen to 20.

Coronavirus in Egypt
Coronavirus daily deaths in Egypt (Source: Accsight)

Anan cautions that even when the weekly average of deaths remains below 20 per day and the fourth wave can officially be announced to be over, Egypt will still need to pursue its vaccination rollout.

“We need to inoculate 40 per cent of the population to neutralise the pandemic,” he said.

Hossam Hosni, head of the Health Ministry’s Committee to Combat Coronavirus, remains worried that, despite the “interim steadiness” Egypt is currently witnessing, daily infections may increase again.

“There is a possibility that we will see an increase in numbers due to weather conditions. This is, after all, the season when viruses tend to spread,” Hosni said on Sunday.

Hosni distanced Egypt from the skyrocketing coronavirus numbers being experienced by many European states, saying local weather conditions and daily habits render comparisons pointless. In Europe, he said, people rely on central heating and closely insulated homes while in Egypt the preference is for natural ventilation.

On the presence in Egypt of the highly contagious Omicron variant, Hosni said the ministry is committed to complete transparency, announcing cases as soon as they are discovered, but that “the dominant variant in Egypt remains Delta.”

Egypt detected its first three cases of the Omicron variant — all of them Egyptian nationals returning from abroad — in early December at Cairo International Airport, since when no further cases have been reported.

“We will not hide any Omicron cases,” said Hosni, adding that although the variant appeared far more transmissible, its symptoms seem less severe, with fewer patients requiring hospitalisation.

Health Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar has said common cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and a sore throat, could indicate infection with the Omicron variant.

On 17 December the GAVI Alliance, which co-leads global efforts on equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, quoted Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at London’s King’s College and the leader of the UK’s ZOE Covid Symptom Study, as saying that Londoners who have common cold-like symptoms “are currently more likely to have Covid-19 than a cold”.

According to the Health Ministry, Egypt is already implementing plans to contain the spread of Omicron. They include facilitating registration procedures for taking the vaccine, and accelerating vaccine delivery which Tageddin says has reached nearly 600,000 doses a day.

On Monday, Egypt’s acting Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar declared that in December 100,000 people were vaccinated in metro stations, train stations, and shopping malls in Cairo and Alexandria. The mobile, walk-in vaccination points first opened in November. According to Abdel-Ghaffar, 21 million of Egypt’s 102 million population have been fully vaccinated, and 34.6 million have received their first shot.

Up to 26 December, Egypt had imported 121 million doses of all available vaccine types of which, according to the presidential adviser, 55 to 60 million doses have been administered.

Egypt recently tightened pandemic-related measures at all land, sea, and air ports. Since December vaccination has been a requirement for any citizen accessing government offices, and unvaccinated state employees are barred from entering their workplaces if they cannot provide a negative PCR test.

In addition to making vaccination mandatory for those above 18 years old, the state is now vaccinating 12-18 year-olds, and has started offering booster shots to the double vaccinated. The third shot provides stronger protection against the virus and its new variant, and may be a different vaccine from the two initial doses.

“The booster dose will not produce symptoms if it is of the same type as the initial doses. If it is a different vaccine there may be symptoms such as fatigue and a slight rise in temperature,” says Hosni.

On Monday, the Health Ministry announced that Egypt will receive its first shipments of the new coronavirus drugs — Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills sufficient to treat 20,000 coronavirus patients, and AstraZeneca’s Evusheld coronavirus antibody sufficient to treat 50,000 — late thin month. Egypt has also begun the local manufacture of Merck’s Molnupiravir coronavirus drug.

The three drugs were authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in December. Paxlovid and Molnupiravir pills are used to treat cases with mild-to-moderate symptoms during the early days of infection, while Evusheld is meant to prevent coronavirus infections.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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