Egypt: Record Omicron infections

Ahmed Morsy , Thursday 27 Jan 2022

Egypt is witnessing a record rise in infections with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, though the risk of serious illness or hospitalisation is far lower.

Many people are abandoning precautionary measures photo: Reuters
Many people are abandoning precautionary measures photo: Reuters

“There is almost no home now that doesn’t have at least one case of Omicron,” Mahmoud, whose parents have recently contracted the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that the low severity of the symptoms was making people less cautious and dealing with it as a common cold.

“People are now less scared of the coronavirus, letting their guards down and abandoning many precautionary measures,” said Tamer Fikri, a physician. “A lot of people infected with the Omicron variant go about their daily activities, go out and mingle with others, and claim that their mild symptoms are seasonal flu and thus spread the virus,” he added.

According to the Health Ministry, the symptoms of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 include a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and a sore throat.

It has recently updated its health advice by urging those who suffer from common cold symptoms to consider that they may have contracted Covid-19 and should therefore self-isolate and avoid sharing personal items with family members so that they can avoid developing symptoms and passing the infection to others.

Presidential adviser for health affairs Mohamed Awad Tageddin said last week that the highly infectious Omicron variant “is now responsible for the vast majority of cases.” Due to the spread of the Omicron variant, Egypt has been seeing a hike in daily infections that on Tuesday exceeded the record rates of summer 2020.

The country reported 1,809 new cases on Tuesday.

The global average daily infection rate of the Omicron variant is three million cases, a number that is three times that for the Delta variant. “These numbers mean that Omicron is much more widely spread than Delta, but less severe [in symptoms and illness],” Islam Anan, a pharmacoepidemiology and pharma-economics lecturer at Ain Shams University in Cairo, said.

“When the coronavirus emerged, we used to say that one person could infect up to three people. With the Delta variant, a patient could infect six or seven people, but now with Omicron a patient can infect three times the number of those with Delta,” he noted.

Any virus tries to maintain its survival, and that is why it mutates to become more prevalent. In this process, it often becomes less severe, Anan said. Thus, this is the beginning of the end to the coronavirus, he added, predicting that in 2022 Covid-19 will become like any other seasonal virus treated with an annual vaccine.

“Unlike with Delta, we now have [various types of] vaccines and more vaccinated people and anti-viral drugs for the coronavirus. Moreover, because of Omicron’s rapid spread, a large number of people have been infected in a short time, and this is a contributing factor in achieving relative herd immunity in the community,” Anan said.

On Monday, the Health Ministry announced that Egypt was the first country in Africa and the Middle East and the fourth globally to provide the anti-coronavirus drug Molnupiravir after the Egyptian Drug Authority (EDA) issued an emergency use authorisation for Merck’s Covid-19 drug and allowed five national companies to manufacture the oral antiviral in a first stage.

The local companies have already manufactured 25,000 Molnupiravir packages that are ready for use, head of the EDA Tamer Essam said in a Health Ministry statement, adding that Egypt has enough raw material to manufacture an additional 150,000 packages.

Molnupiravir, which has been included in treatment protocols and will only be allowed for hospital use, has obtained emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). It consists of capsules to be taken orally to treat the coronavirus that can decrease hospitalisations and deaths by half for patients suffering from mild to moderate illness.

Egypt is also expected to receive AstraZeneca’s Evusheld coronavirus antibody treatment for the treatment of 50,000 patients, and Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills required for the treatment of 20,000 coronavirus patients by the end of the month, said Health Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar.

While Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are both used to treat cases with mild-to-moderate symptoms during the early days of infection, Evusheld is meant to prevent coronavirus infections.

Egypt tops Africa in coronavirus vaccine stock, including almost all the available vaccines worldwide — the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac, the British-Swedish AstraZeneca, the Russian Sputnik V, and the US-made Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Egypt has obtained over 134 million vaccine doses and had administered up until Monday this week 36.9 million vaccine shots as first doses and 25 million as second doses, in addition to 564,000 booster shots, according to the Health Ministry.

The rate of hospital admissions, according to the latest studies in the US and Britain, is 50 per cent lower than for the previous wave, said Anan. “This is good, but we still have to be careful because even though Omicron is less ferocious, it still causes deaths and hospitalisations,” he said, stressing the importance of adhering to precautionary measures.

Anan believes that the current peak of infections will continue until the first week of February and then the infection curve will gradually reduce in March.

Amid the increase in daily coronavirus infections, Egypt has recently updated its plans to contain the spread of Omicron by implementing new coronavirus-related restrictions at airports, seaports, and land crossings.

Starting on 22 January, Egyptian and foreign travellers arriving in Egypt, except children below the age of 12, are required to hold certificates of World Health Organisation-approved or EDA-approved coronavirus vaccination, either the single-dose vaccine or the last dose of a two-shot vaccine at least 14 days before arrival.

If travellers are not vaccinated, they must present the negative results of coronavirus tests — the PCR test, the Antigen rapid test or the ID NOW test — issued within 72 hours of arrival.

Egypt will not accept ID NOW tests from travellers coming from South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Eswatini, the acting health minister said on Friday.

Travellers whose coronavirus tests or vaccine certificates do not conform to established standards will have to take Antigen rapid tests at the airport. If the test is positive, they will have to self-quarantine at their hotel or residence for five days. On the sixth day, they will undergo a PCR test and will be allowed to end the quarantine if they test negative and show no symptoms of illness.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli recently stressed the importance of not allowing any person who is unvaccinated to enter government facilities in Egypt in a reminder to people to get the vaccine and contain the outbreak.

Egypt has not only made vaccination mandatory for those above 18 years old and is now vaccinating 12 to 18-year-olds as well as offering booster shots to those who are double vaccinated, but it is also studying lowering the age of vaccination for children from five to 12 years old, according to the Health Ministry spokesperson.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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