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A state of panic has swept across Cairo, after the first coronavirus death among Egyptians

March 16, 2020 at 9:30 am

A state of panic has swept across Daqahliyah province, north-east of Cairo, after the first coronavirus death among Egyptians. A 60-year-old woman became the first fatality and her death has led to suspicions that there are a number of cases of the virus in the region. On Friday funeral prayers were held for Atyat Mohamed Ebrahem in Al-Samahiya AlKoubra village, Belkas, Daqahliyah province. This cane under increased security as Ebrahem’s death has caused a state of panic among Egyptians in the village and those around it; fear that she had infected others before her death.

Official sources told local media that Ebrahem was infected by an Italian woman she had come into contact with. She was then admitted to hospital with pneumonia on Wednesday morning. When test results showed she had contracted the coronavirus, she was transferred to the specialist quarantine hospital, and died on Friday. The hospital tested all those who had been in contact with her to identify anyone who had been infected.

This official narrative had been questioned by Ebrahem’s relatives, one family member, Dalia, told Egypt Watch that she has suspicions that Ebrahem contracted coronavirus while in hospital. Dalia explained that Ebrahem had suffered respiratory problems for some time. Doctors had referred her to the General Chest Hospital on Wednesday when she was infected with the new virus.

Ebrahem had not, Dalia explained, communicated with anyone who had come to the area from abroad. A member of the staff at the Chest Hospital of Belkas told Egypt Watch that if the Italian lady was the source of the virus in the village it would be problematic as she had been there over a month and a half ago. This would mean everyone in the village is now infected and there had only been one death because Ebrahem was already weak. As it would not be possible to test the entire population of the village, the only solution would be to impose quarantine across the area.

The resulting panic following Ebrahem’s death led score of locals to rush to hospitals to be tested for the virus. The increased demand forced the Chest Hospital of Belkas to shut down. There were rumours of cases of coronavirus which has been kept secret, officials denied such reports. Security forces imposed restrictions on Al-Samahya village to force residents into quarantine, which provoked residents to requests testing for the virus. This also occurred in Al-Kardod village and many others.

READ: Egypt shuts schools, universities for two weeks as virus cases increase

Special sources from inside a private hospital in Cairo told Egypt Watch that the Ministry of Health was informed that a 27-year-old lady was suspected of having the virus. She works as a translator and had contracted pneumonia – which is rare in patients of her age. The ministry refused to test her for coronavirus. Sources added that the ministry had told hospitals that patients would only be deemed to be suspected cases of the virus if they had come to the country from abroad or had come into contact with a family member who had travelled.

The ministry explained that the high cost of the medical tests was the reason for its decision. When the ministry was informed that the translator had come into contact with numerous people, it insisted no tests would take place as it feared an influx of applications.

Coronavirus is affecting the whole world, will it unite us - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Coronavirus is affecting the whole world, will it unite us? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A source from the Ministry of Health told Egypt Watch that the above protocol was in place. Egypt, he said, has neither the tools nor the means to test or treat those suspected of having the virus. He added that the government was putting in place numerous procedures to stop the virus spreading. These include ordering malls and commercial centres to close because of the bad weather when the real reason is to tackle the coronavirus.

On Friday, The ministry said there were 93 cases in the count try, including 21 that had recovered and were released from quarantine in hospitals. Only two deaths have been reported including Ebrahem and a German tourist. Most countries have declared a state of emergency to fight the pandemic; closing schools and universities. World leaders have also taken the time to address their people to update them about the steps being taken to tackle the virus.

Egypt finally decided to close education institutes yesterday in an effort to contain the pandemic. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is, however, no where to be seen when normally he gives numerous speeches and takes part in media appearances.

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This article was first published on Egypt Watch, 15 March 2020 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.