A prominent doctor and medical researcher in Port Said died on Sunday due to complications from COVID-19, marking the first death of a medical professional in Egypt as a result of the pandemic.
Dr. Ahmed al-Louh, 50, a professor of medical analysis at Al-Azhar University in Port Said, died hours after arriving at the Abu Khalifa Hospital in Ismaila, an officially designated quarantine site, on Sunday evening, according to a hospital source that spoke to Mada Masr.
The source — who asked to remain anonymous — said that as part of his medical research, Louh had come in contact with an Indian national working at a factory in the city who later tested positive for COVID-19. Upon learning the Indian worker was infected, Louh quarantined himself inside his home on Thursday. However, his condition deteriorated rapidly. The Doctors Syndicate mourned his death in a statement released on Monday.
As of last week, at least 26 medical practitioners reportedly had contracted the virus. The Doctors Syndicate has received complaints from a number of government hospitals inside and outside of Cairo regarding a lack of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks and sterilization equipment.
Meanwhile, the total number of positive cases in Egypt continues to rise. According to the latest official figures, which were released by the Health Ministry on Sunday night, 33 additional people tested positive for COVID-19 and four more died of complications from the disease, bringing the total numbers to 609 people who have tested positive for the disease and 40 who have died due to complications from it.
The four deceased announced on Sunday ranged in age from 58 to 84 years old and were all Egyptian nationals from the Cairo governorate. A total of 132 people have tested negative from the virus after contracting it. The youngest person in Egypt to have died of COVID-19 was 37 years old and was suffering from colon cancer, according to the Health Ministry.
The figures released Sunday show a nearly twofold jump in the number of confirmed cases over the past week from 327 on March 22.
Following a streaming press conference held on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Egypt released a statement concerning the findings and recommendations of a WHO team of experts who concluded a COVID-19 technical support mission to Egypt on 25 March 2020.
“After several days of intensive meetings and field visits both inside and outside Cairo, we see that Egypt is making substantial efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak. Significant work is being done, especially in the areas of early detection, laboratory testing, isolation, contact tracing and referral of patients,” said Dr Yvan Hutin, Director for Communicable Diseases in WHO’s Regional Office and mission team lead.
“But more needs to be done,” Hutin added. “There is now a critical window of opportunity to effectively control the outbreak before the current local transmission progresses to community transmission. We have agreed on several areas that can be scaled up, taking a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.”
With support from WHO and other partners, Egypt now has the capacity to conduct up to 200,000 tests, according to Hutin, a figure that comes in at approximately 2,000 tests per million people when adjusted for Egypt’s population of 100 million people. According to comments Health Minister Hala Zayed made in an appearance on Amr Adib’s show Al-Hekaya on March 27, Egypt had conducted over 20,000 tests to that point.
As the virus continues to spread, certain areas in the governorates of Minya, Port Said, Monufiya and Port Said have been placed on lockdown for a period of two weeks, according to the Health Ministry. Spokesperson Khaled al-Magahed said residents in the affected areas have been instructed to stay in their homes and that the Social Solidarity Ministry will supply households with all necessities. Security forces will be controlling entrance and exit from the areas.
There is a visible security presence on main streets and squares in Cairo, where new checkpoints have appeared to enforce the government-mandated curfew. The curfew, which came into effect on March 25, includes a ban on movement from 7 pm until 6 am and the closure of all shops and retail stores from 5pm until 6am, from Sunday to Thursday, with a 24-hour closure on weekends. Bakeries, supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies are the only exceptions.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree on Sunday to earmark LE2.25 billion for medical staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the presidential spokesperson, the decree will: raise the monthly medical professionals’ allowance, which provides compensation for working conditions, by 75 percent, increasing the allowance from LE400 to LE700 for nurses and LE700 to LE1,225 for doctors; create a risk fund for medical staff in all hospitals; and provide bonuses for medical staff working at quarantine, fever and chest hospitals.
The Health Ministry also announced on Sunday that it will train 10,000 doctors on how to diagnose, manage and treat patients that have contracted COVID-19. The Doctors Syndicate on Friday called on the Health Ministry to test all medical staff who have been in contact with coronavirus patients without waiting for symptoms to appear, in order to protect health workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Salam Hospital in the Mohandiseen district of Cairo has stopped receiving patients in its outpatient and emergency clinics in order to sterilize the hospital after two lab workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few days. In Minya, the Salamout Hospital was temporarily closed after a positive case was identified on Friday.
On Saturday, the Education Directorate in Qalyubiya announced that up to 40 schools in the governorate are ready to be converted into quarantine centers if the need arises to help contain the spread of infection. Information Minister Osama Heikal said last week that the government’s plan for a “Stage Three” level of measures and restrictions if the number of confirmed cases in Egypt reaches 1,000 would include using schools as quarantine centers to isolate patients.
Meanwhile, the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University announced that 70 teams have signed up to take part in a competition to design a low-cost ventilator. The best three designs selected by judges will be available for free download and local manufacturers have been lined up to produce them.
The Endowments Ministry has extended the closure of mosques indefinitely. The ministry first ordered mosques to close their doors for two weeks beginning on March 21. The Coptic Orthodox Church had also suspended masses and other activities in churches at the same time though it has not said whether it will extend the shutdown.
A number of governors have ordered the closure of all the beaches in their governorates until further notice, after news emerged of packed beaches in a number of coastal cities over the past few days.
The Central Bank of Egypt has also imposed new capital controls on cash withdrawals across the country. According to a Central Bank statement, individuals are limited to a maximum withdrawal of LE10,000 per day in bank branches, while companies have the higher limit of LE50,000, and businesses will be exempt from the withdrawal limits if the money is used to pay employees. Withdrawals from ATMs are set at the lower limit of LE5,000, while military companies are not affected by the limits. In a televised interview, Central Bank governor Tarek Amer said the controls were a response to cash hoarding among bank customers. The Central Bank also urged the public to use less cash and to rely on bank transfers and credit cards in their transactions, adding that all fees on bank transfers have been canceled.
The Egyptian Businessmen’s Association sent a memorandum to Amer on Sunday requesting an exemption on the maximum withdrawal limit of LE50,000 per day. The president of the association Ali Issa told Mada Masr that the decision will hurt businesses as many transactions are conducted in cash.
The fifth Egypt Air flight to evacuate Egyptian citizens stranded in Kuwait arrived in Cairo on Sunday with 350 people on board. The previous four flights evacuated a total of 1,212 people. Meanwhile, EgyptAir sources quoted in Al-Masry Al-Youm said that an Air Cairo flight from London repatriated some 150 stranded Egyptians, while arrangements are also being made to bring back Egyptians stranded in Tunisia, according to Immigration and Egyptian Expatriate Affairs Minister Nabila Makram. The ministry has received over 11,000 complaints from Egyptians stranded abroad demanding to return home, Makram told the newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm.
According to Makram, the majority of the complaints came from Egyptians in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Italy, Sudan, Britain, Qatar, France, Bali, South Africa and Mauritania. Makram previously told the newspaper Al-Mal that for a plane to be arranged, at least 140 Egyptians stranded abroad must be on it. If there are less than 140 there is also the possibility of taking the return leg on a flight that is bringing foreign tourists in Egypt back to their home country.
The Health Ministry issued an order on Friday that increases the period of self-quarantine for anyone returning from abroad from 14 days to 28 days.
Meanwhile, the public prosecution has introduced a minimum sentence of two years and a minimum fine of LE100,000 for anyone proven to have circulated false information about coronavirus. The move comes days after news emerged that Egyptian authorities forced Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson to leave the country after she reported on a study that said Egypt was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than have been officially confirmed.
According to the Arab Network for Human Rights and Information, lawyer Mohsen Bahnasy was beaten and then detained by National Security Agency officers on Friday. In the subsequent interrogation, Bahnasy was not presented with a reason for his arrest, but he was asked about his political opinion on subjects such as the 2019 constitutional amendments. However, several days before he was detained, Bahnasy was summoned to the NSA headquarters in Abbasseya to discuss a social media post in which he had called for the release of those held in Egypt’s jails due to the health risks they face as coronavirus spreads. Bahnasy was ordered to be held 15 days on charges of “joining an illegal organization and spreading false news,” ANHRI lawyer Ahmed Abdel-Latif said.