Anti-virus precautions to stay in place
Gamal Essam El-Din, Wednesday 22 Apr 2020
The number of coronavirus patients in Egypt broke the 3,000 barrier this week, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Figures released by the Ministry of Health show the number of coronavirus infections in Egypt increased by 1,000 between 12 April (2,065) and 18 April (3,032).

Mohamed Al-Amari, head of parliament’s Health Affairs Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that while it took 51 days to report more than 1,000 coronavirus infections, it took eight days to reach more than 2,000 in the eighth week and just six days to exceed 3,000 in the ninth week. He warned that Egypt might break the 1,000 per day barrier if it eases social distancing rules too quickly.

Omar Abul-Atta, head of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Surveillance Team in Egypt, said in a TV interview on 18 April that 3,000 infections for a country with 100 million is still small.

“We hope the daily figures remain low. A significant increase will exert tremendous pressure on the health system.”

Abul-Atta added that the precautionary measures should continue for “some months”, until Egypt flattens the curve. He urged decision-makers not to abandon precautionary measures early. Singapore has paid a heavy price for doing so. Despite early success in containing the virus it recorded a spike in cases this week, reaching 8,000 on Monday.

Saturday 18 April, the beginning of the ninth week, was the worst day for Egypt so far in terms of the number of infections and mortality. The Ministry of Health reported 188 new coronavirus infections and 19 deaths.

Infections began to regularly exceed 150 per day this week. Egypt was registering between 80 and 120 infections per day until 14 April when 160 infections were recorded. This was followed by 168 infections on 16 April, 171 on 17 April, and 188 infections on 18 April. The number decreased to 112 on 19 April, but surged again on 20 April to 189. The number of deaths also increased to double-digits per day.

By 20 April Egypt had recorded 3,333 infections. On the same day Minister of Health Hala Zayed said the ministry was revising medical protocols used to treat coronavirus patients.

Zayed said that despite the recent increase, the rate of coronavirus infections in Egypt remains low, and the majority of coronavirus patients suffer from “mild symptoms”.

“More than 400 patients presenting mild symptoms have been transferred from quarantine hospitals to medical centres,” said Zayed.

John Jabbour, WHO’s representative in Egypt, said the recent increase in the number of infections in Egypt does not worry him. “We should not worry as long as the increase is gradual and does not take the shape of a big spike, but what is worrying for me now is the increase in the number of deaths,” said Jabbour, adding in a TV interview on 20 April that “WHO is currently coordinating with the Ministry of Health on the ‘treatment protocols’ being used in anti-coronavirus quarantine hospitals.”

Jabbour said the only way for Egypt and other countries to reduce the coronavirus infections and deaths is to remain committed to the social distancing and cleanliness measures.

Former minister of health and adviser to President Al-Sisi, Awad Taggeddin, said Egypt is now focusing on two kinds of “treatment protocols”.

“The first is using the Japanese drug known as Avigan and the other is using the plasma of recovered patients as treatment,” said Taggeddin, hoping that these will help reduce the death toll.

Against the backdrop of the increase in coronavirus cases Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli declared the Sham Al-Nessim holiday on Monday “a lockdown” day.

“Public transport was banned for the first time, and beaches, resorts, shopping malls, public parks and gardens were closed,” said cabinet spokesman Nader Saad.

On Thursday the cabinet is widely expected to extend the night-time curfew to cover Ramadan, which begins on 24 April.
Initially set between 7pm and 6am, the curfew was shortened on 8 April to run from 8pm to 6am.

The number of patients who have fully recovered and been released from hospital in recent days has also increased.

“The number increased from 179 on 1 April to 821 on 20 April, and the number of those whose test results have moved from positive to negative exceeded 1,086 this week,” said Al-Amari.

Meanwhile, a number of political parties have launched a so-called white coat initiative. It aims to raise awareness about the importance of abiding by the precautionary measures first announced on 25 March. The initiative said the next two weeks would be make-or-break: “Either we reduce the figures of the infection or see them rise. If citizens fail to abide by the rules in Ramadan, hopes that the infection might subside by June will be dashed.”

Al-Amari said that although the recent spike in coronavirus infections and deaths in Egypt is worrying, the figures from neighbouring countries show that Egypt is still doing well.

On 20 April, Egypt ranked 53rd out of 215 countries in terms of the number of reported coronavirus cases. But this week Egypt overtook Algeria for the first time, ranking fourth among 22 Arab countries in terms of infections, trailing Saudi Arabia (10,484), the United Arab Emirates (7,265), and Qatar (6,015). Algeria came fifth as infections reached 2,700. Algerian officials say, with only 40 cases in intensive care units in hospitals, they were able to flatten the curve this week.

Al-Amari said the figures show that the number of infections in the Arab world is increasing rapidly, with large increases reported in Arab Gulf countries, recording between 500 and 1,000 per day. But though the number of infections is high, the number of deaths remains low, ranging between five and ten per day.

In the Arab world Egypt is surpassed on by Algeria in terms of the death toll. Algeria recorded a total of 380 deaths on 19 April, compared to 250 in Egypt.

In comparison with Iran, Turkey and Israel, Egypt also continues to fare well.

Turkey recorded the most coronavirus cases outside Europe and the US this week. On 19 April Reuters reported that confirmed coronavirus cases in Turkey had risen to 86,306, overtaking neighbouring Iran for the first time. It is the highest total for any country outside Europe or the United States. Turkey saw an increase of 3,977 cases on 19 April, and the death toll increased to 2,017. Iran had recorded 84,802 cases by 20 April, with 5,209 deaths. In Israel recorded cases reached 13,654, with 173 deaths on 19 April.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly