Daily COVID-19 roundup: May 21
 
 

Editor’s note: The daily COVID-19 roundup is part of the Mada Morning Digest, our daily overview of what is making waves in the Arabic language press. If you want all the latest updates on COVID-19 and other leading stories including coverage of the economy, foreign policy, Parliament, the judiciary, media and much more — to land in your mailbox each morning, subscribe for a free trial here

Here are the latest figures on COVID-19 as of Wednesday, May 20:

 

New casesRecoveredNew deaths
74530921
Current casesTotal casesTotal deaths
8,96514,229680

 

320 additional state hospitals deployed to process COVID-19 cases as figures continue 3-day climb 

New steps from the Cabinet and Health Ministry on Wednesday were directed toward increasing the capacity of Egypt’s health care system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all 320 of the Health Ministry’s hospitals due to take part in screening and processing cases.  

The move comes after Egypt hit a record number of new cases for the third consecutive day, and following news which increasingly pointed to burnout in the contingent of hospitals equipped to cope with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Initial plans back in April had looked to bolster the health system for the targeted “coexisting with coronavirus” phase by looping chest and fever hospitals into the corps of facilities equipped to treat COVID-19.  

Before this, the chest and fever hospitals had previously been tasked only with screening suspected COVID-19 cases, and diverting those who tested positive to a smaller contingent of around 16 quarantine hospitals

Yet the measures announced on Wednesday told of an effort to pull substantially more resources into screening suspected cases, and to treating and quarantining them. Health Minister Hala Zayed announced that all 320 of the ministry’s general and central hospitals are to be mobilized to screen and process suspected cases of COVID-19, while a few more specialized hospitals are being converted to quarantine hospitals for more confirmed cases with severe symptoms.

Over the last three days, the ministry has pegged the National Liver Institute, the Zaitoun Specialized Hospital, the Qahera al-Fatimiyah Hospital and Nasr City Insurance Hospital to be deployed as quarantine hospitals.  

The additional capacity for screening cases comes on the heels of the Health Ministry’s decision to add a push for home-quarantine for confirmed cases suffering from “mild” symptoms to its strategy.

Efforts from the Health Ministry have likewise sought to increase human resources in the health system, after mounting infections among medical staff led to a severe shortage of doctors at key hospitals across the country, with the Health Ministry stepping in to divert additional medical teams to take over. Doctor shortages were already a long-term problem for Egypt’s healthcare system before the pandemic.

In a Tuesday statement, the ministry said that the March 2020 cohort of medical graduates would be assigned to their residency posts starting Saturday, citing the “conditions the country is living in due to the pandemic.” The Doctor’s Syndicate said there was not enough information about how the assignments would roll out, especially after a controversial new posting system was announced by the government last October. “Doctors demand ‘urgent’ meeting with Madbuly: We want to return to the old system,” reads a headline from the privately-owned Al-Shorouk.

Other top news items related to COVID-19 that made it to the headlines in Thursday’s press include:

  • Information Minister Osama Heikal made an appearance on MBC Egypt on Wednesday night, and cleared up some of the thinking behind the government’s “coexisting with COVID-19” plan, which is due to launch mid-June.
    • On why Egypt ruled out the type of lockdown seen on the other side of the Mediterranean, Heikal said “we looked into all scenarios, including total lockdown, but to be honest we can’t afford it.” 
    • Heikal made comments in keeping with the administration’s tendency to pass the buck to citizens, pointing to a sense of “individual responsibility” as the do-or-die crux on which the effort’s plans to contain the virus depend. “Regardless of how tough and strict the government’s protective measures are, the outcomes will not be positive if citizens do not adhere to them,” said Heikal. “The citizen’s is the major role, the state’s task is merely to organize, and every person should be responsible for themselves.” 
    • Relatively nonchalant about the steady upward curve in infections, Heikal even implied the Cabinet had considered lifting curfew altogether after Eid. “We said let’s lift the curfew altogether after Eid as part of coexistence with the virus policy,” he said, justifying the idea by describing Egypt’s situation as “better than many countries.” “Eventually we found out that resuming measures for 15 days after Eid is necessary,” Heikal admitted, indicating the PM’s announcement yesterday which decreed a further fortnight of curfew and closures after May 30.
    • As for what’s behind the spike in infections, Heikal pointed to citizens “crowding areas in the ten-day lead-up to Ramadan.”
       
  • After Giza and Cairo were found to be the focus of most new infections, PM Mostafa Madbuly instructed the governorate heads to look into the causes. 
  • Al-Azhar’s Dar al-Iftaa also weighed in on the issue of gatherings, issuing a statement saying that during the pandemic it “amounts to murder” if you claim that it’s okay to “violate the ban on group congregation” for prayer, while encouraging adherence to the government’s guidelines.
  • Wednesday also saw an ongoing push to make masks more widely available, with obligatory mask-wearing due to form a key part of the “coexistence with COVID-19 plan.” The PM said Wednesday that the government is “doing all it can to make sustainable masks widely available at good quality and affordable prices,” adding that he was coordinating with the Trade and Industry Ministry to do so.
    • On cue, Trade and Industry Minister Neveen al-Gamea was out and about Wednesday to rally round support for fabric mask production. Gamea met with industry reps who deal with clothes and textile production in the normal run of things. She announced, “the Health Ministry and the Trade and Industry Ministry has put together a set of standards for fabric mask production, and has sent them out to factories” which are “preparing to start production.” 
    • Technical schools in Beni Suef are also poised to contribute to the production effort, with the governorate announcing plans to start producing medical masks.
    • Mahalla Textile and Weaving factories have doubled their production of medical masks from 70,000 to 140,000 masks per day, said Foad Abdel Aziz, a member of the company’s board. You can read Mada Masr’s coverage on the Mahalla factory’s contribution to Egypt’s COVID-19 response here.
    • Right now, around 750,000 masks are being produced per day, said Sherif Ezzat, head of the Medical Supplies Unit at the Federation of Egyptian Industries. Ezzat said this is around three times what was being produced before COVID-19 reached Egypt.
       
  • Building on requests from medical staff over the past fortnight after worrying figures on COVID-19 cases among frontline hospital workers, the Union of Medical Syndicates is still pushing for more accessible PCR tests. They’re also asking for a quarantine hospital to be dedicated to treating COVID-19 infections among medical staff, according to a letter the union sent to the president, the PM, the speaker and the health minister.
     
  • In a week where slightly fewer news items emerged regarding infections among medical staff, reports on Wednesday continued to suggest a high risk of infection among those still going to work.
    • Clusters of infections emerged among workers at Al-Araby and Egypt Foods factories in the Monufiya governorate, prompting a decision to shut down both factories and give workers a week’s leave.
    • Ahmed Gaber Shadid, president of the Fayoum University, has tested positive for COVID-19.
    • Despite the official instructions on precautions at state institutions and ministries, reports indicate that the government is far from immune
    • The director of legal affairs at the Electricity Ministry as well as another employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
    • The National Railways Authority announced that a  post official at the director’s office had tested positive. 
    • MP Sherine al-Farrag, who became the first MP to test positive for COVID-19 on May 12, has blown the whistle on health ministry officials, who she said failed to stick to protective measures during a meeting she attended with them, adding that she has since learned that one of the senior officials who attended the meeting tested positive, along with his office’s staff.
    • After the governor of Daqahlia tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, negative test results reportedly returned for all the employees at the administrative building. The irrigation minister is self-isolating after coming into close contact with the governor just hours before his test results came in positive.
       
  • It’s still early to get a clear picture of how COVID-19 will affect the broader economic structures in Egypt and beyond going forward, but a few news items on Wednesday pointed to ongoing changes.
    • After a few relatively good days for the Egyptian Stock Exchange, EGX indices closed down again yesterday by an average of 1.1% due to the upward spike in the daily number of coronavirus cases.
    • Reports by Fitch Solutions and Oxford Business Group showed that the pandemic is likely to result in substantial expansions in the Middle East’s “healthcare market,” with reports painting Egypt as a prize destination for private investors.
    • Right on time, a headline in Al-Borsa announces that medical production company Ultramed will be pushing LE23 million in investments into expanding a factory in Assiut this year.
    • Though the report above attested to a healthy private medical sector on Wednesday, Egypt’s public health system, and consequently its patients, looked to be increasingly dependent on foreign aid.
    • More details emerged on how Egypt will spend the US$50-million rapid financing loan it received this week from the World Bank. The money is dedicated to the COVID-19 response, with: 
      • $19 million earmarked for “slowing down the spread of coronavirus” through “awareness campaigns, building healthcare workers’ capacity, and bolstering contact tracing systems.”
      • $10 million will go to equip and prepare quarantine facilities.
      • $20 million to go to buy the medical equipment and supplies needed to combat the virus.
      • And the remaining $1 million to go on salaries for the staff rolling out the project.
    • The United States donated US$3.2 million to the Egyptian Red Crescent on Wednesday to help the organization’s network’s response to the pandemic through “awareness campaigns.”

 

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