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Egypt on the brink as third covid wave engulfs the country

An Egyptian man who recovered from Covid-19 in Cairo on July 22, 2020 [HALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Earlier this week, Egypt's Ministry of Health denied the news that covid cases had spiralled out of control in Sohag Governorate and reassured the public that there were enough hospital beds for everyone.

The announcement sparked outrage on social media – 14 people had died in one day according to one report. Doctors told stories of how they had to turn patients away as hospitals were full. Over three days, five doctors in their thirties all died from coronavirus.

Soaring infection rates in this province in Upper Egypt are one part of a nationwide problem as the country struggles to come to terms with its third wave of coronavirus as infection rates and the death toll soar.


An Egyptian medical worker holds a bottle of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Covishield) on March 4, 2021 in Cairo on the first day of vaccination in Egypt [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

According to official statistics, 500 doctors have now died in Egypt making it the country with the highest fatality rate among medical personnel in the world. Twitter is littered with warnings that the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

In a tweet, a senior fellow at Carnegie Yezid Sayigh said that the ratio of doctors out of the national total of deaths in Egypt is six times higher than in the US.

Midway through the holy month, it's business as usual for Ramadan restaurants, Sohour tents, concerts and markets despite government advice on social distancing. Ramadan 2020, at the end of May, is when Egypt hit the peak of its first wave.

Instead of dealing with the crisis, for consecutive months Health Minister Hala Zayed has scrambled to deflect criticism, insisting publicly that 115 doctors have died since the start of the pandemic after their work in isolation hospitals, whilst the rest contracted the virus through various social engagements.

In January this year, Zayed herself was caught on video at a wedding despite the fact that indoor gatherings, including weddings, had been restricted for quite some time in Egypt as the pandemic escalated.

Forever at war with the truth, she dismissed five letters written by the medical union demanding vaccinations for all medical personnel and instead has blamed doctors for not turning up to receive their jabs.

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There have been questions over the rollout of China's Sinopharm vaccine in Egypt after 50,000 doses arrived in December as a gift from the UAE followed by 300,000 doses as a gift from China.

With a lower efficacy rate than the Pfizer or AstraZeneca inoculations, some have asked why it was free and if it has become a vaccine for poor countries whose populations have no alternative but to take it.

Then the health minister suggested that the vaccines would be given out at 100 Egyptian pounds ($6.38) for the first dose and 200 Egyptian pounds ($12.77) for the second, to which lawyer Khaled Ali responded by filing a lawsuit with the Ministry of Health demanding it is provided free of charge.

There were promises from the government that those not able to pay would be offered the jab for free but in late March the government began vaccinating MPs and their families as a priority ahead of the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

Egypt has carried out the lowest number of vaccinations worldwide and far less than its regional neighbours. Less than one per cent of its population has received at least one dose compared to Bahrain at 43 per cent and Morocco at 14 per cent.

The government's failure to get a handle on the pandemic has repercussion beyond the families of patients who die. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against travelling to Egypt even for those with the vaccine, which is a huge blow for tourist industry workers who so desperately need the revenue holidaymakers bring.

As Egypt comes to terms with losing several hundred medics, and the state's failure to recognise their sacrifices, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has called on authorities to declare a national state of mourning and take urgent measures to protect doctors and nurses.

READ: Egypt prohibits COVID-19 vaccine production by local companies

It has also called on the government to reveal the true figures of the number of people who are infected with COVID-19, and those who have died, and to give sufficient financial compensation to their families.

Since the start of the pandemic, doctors have spoken out about the dilapidated health care system, which is in desperate need of reform. They have asked for adequate PPE, struggled under heavy workloads and long hours, and been harassed and imprisoned if they question any of the above.

The government's disdain for medics has seeped down into some parts of the population. In April, a group of people exhumed the grave of an Egyptian nurse who died of coronavirus in Helwan, set fire to her corpse and dumped it outside the Izbat Al-Bagour Cemetery where her family found it.

In a similar incident last year, residents in a village in Dakahlia Governorate threw rocks at an ambulance carrying the body of a doctor who died from coronavirus to prevent the funeral from taking place in the village cemetery because they believed the body would spread the virus.

Doctors have been asked to leave their houses, harassed and bullied. One nurse had her phone number posted on social media after she was infected. Incidents like this show how doctors are seen as carriers of disease, rather than national heroes, a reflection of the narrative the government is promoting.

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

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