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Egypt’s COVID-19 response delayed, trains remain overcrowded

April 2, 2020 at 11:27 am

Cars and pedestrians are pictured in one Egypt’s popular streets in Cairo, shortly before a curfew was imposed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus on 25 March 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

Egypt’s response to COVID-19 was delayed and has failed to enforce social distancing measures, according to the independent website Mada Masr.

Health minister Hala Zayed formed an operations room to centralise the COVID-19 response on the day she came back from China, where she was visiting to show solidarity with its fight against the virus.

When she returned to Egypt there were 12 confirmed cases on board a Nile cruise ship that had sailed from Aswan to Luxor, where before this there had only been three.

“Until then we were dealing with isolated cases,” a health ministry official told Mada Masr. “But Luxor was the first infection cluster.”

READ: Egypt’s Health Minister: ‘COVID-19 spread will be contained within 3 weeks’

This operations room was tasked with isolating and treating known infections, tracing who had come into contact with them, importing test kits, preparing labs to carry out tests and assessing staffing needs across the country.

Twenty-seven hospitals, one per governorate, were designated to quarantine suspected cases, plus another six hospitals allocated for people who had actually tested positive.

A week after the Luxor cases the government began rationing tests, using them only for people who fit the “case definition” of a COVID-19 patient, according to the article, and people who had been in contact with known positive cases arriving from high risk countries.

On 27 March WHO released a report outlining Egypt’s test capacity at 200,000 but by 27 March they had conducted only 25,000 tests, which led to a number of questions over how many infections existed that the government didn’t know about.

In March a tourist returning from Egypt complained that despite displaying symptoms of coronavirus whilst in the country it was only the Asian tourists who were being tested. Egypt has come under fire for racially profiling East Asians in the country in its response to COVID-19.

The fact that the people leading the operations room included officials who designed and implemented treatment campaigns for hepatitis C, only highlighted the poor infection control which existed in hospitals across Egypt.

READ: Egypt’s private airlines call for aviation minister to intervene amid coronavirus crisis

Last year WHO said that Egypt has one of the world’s largest epidemics of hepatitis C at 6.3 per cent of the population due to unsafe medical injections, inadequate infection control and familial transmission.

Critics hold the government’s failure to implement social distancing as one of their biggest concerns in the COVID-19 response. Nowhere is this more obvious than Cairo’s metro, which transports 3.5 million people a day and is still in operation from 6am to 7pm when the curfew comes into effect.

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]

Earlier this week journalist Wael Al-Ibrashi presented photos and video clips of the crowded metro in Cairo that had circulated on social media to the transport minister Kamel Al-Wazeer, criticising him for his failure to implemented the WHO recommended social distancing policy.

The Mada Masr article also highlights the government’s delay in implementing decision to close cafés, restaurants and shopping malls and suspending flights at the early crucial stages.

Since Egypt’s operation room was established official confirmed cases have risen from 15 to over 779 and there are cases in 25 of 27 governorates.

However, Canadian researchers estimate there to be over 19,000 cases in Egypt amid allegations of a government cover-up.