Daily COVID-19 roundup: June 4
 
 

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, June 3:

New casesRecoveredNew deaths
1,07972936
Current casesTotal casesTotal deaths
19,15628,6151,088

 

Family of deceased doctor accuses health minister, officials of negligence

An investigation into medical negligence on the part of the health minister and the director of Mounira Hospital was requested on Wednesday by the family of deceased doctor Walid Yehia Abdel Halim, in a report submitted to the public prosecutor.

Family of deceased Mounira Hospital doctor files complaint with public prosecutor to investigate health minister,” reads a headline from the privately Cairo24 news website.

Abdel Halim’s death sparked an uproar when it was reported on May 25, bringing to a head an antagonism between the Health Ministry and the Doctors Syndicate around working conditions for medical staff that has persisted throughout the course of the pandemic in Egypt.

While a few concessions were made to demands from the Doctors Syndicate in the wake of Abdel Halim’s death, the government has taken an increasingly hardline approach to doctors’ complaints. In an update on measures to discipline doctors on Wednesday, 10 members of the medical staff at a Qena hospital were referred to a disciplinary committee for taking time off last week, according to an announcement from the governor of Qena, who appeared to be acting in line with government measures rolled out this week to keep medical teams on task. 

A confrontation between the Health Ministry and doctors at Mounira Hospital followed the death of Abdel Halim, a 32-year-old doctor with no prior health conditions, who died of COVID-19 while he waited to be allocated a bed at a quarantine hospital. Abdel Halim was initially denied access to PCR testing due to a ministry-issued testing protocol which stipulated that doctors should self-assess their symptoms; a directive which had been repeatedly blasted by the Doctors Syndicate as well as other health workers unions. Before he was able to get hold of an official diagnosis, Abdel Halim’s health had deteriorated significantly. 

In a report submitted to the Public Prosecution, cited by the Cairo24 website, Dr. Abdel Halim’s family have asked for an “immediate investigation” to be launched into Health Minister Hala Zayed, the director of Mounira Hospital, and “all other officials involved” over the death of Dr. Walid Yehia Abdel Halim. The family accused the officials of  “severe medical negligence bordering on homicide,” Cairo24 reported on Wednesday. 

In response to sustained pressure from the syndicate, and amid threats of mass resignation following Abdel Halim’s death, the Health Ministry announced in late May that it had begun to equip a hospital specifically treating medical staff, as well as designating an area at each existing quarantine hospital for COVID-19 positive hospital workers. The prime minister later pledged to provide PCR testing to doctors who had come into contact with confirmed cases regardless of their symptoms, following a meeting with syndicate head Dr. Hussein Khairy.

The coronavirus continues to sweep through medical staff, however, leading to severe shortages at a number of hospitals. More than two-thirds of the Abbaseya Chest Hospital, for example, have recently tested positive for COVID-19, leaving the remaining third of the staff struggling to provide care for dozens of resident patients and hundreds of visiting patients on a daily basis.  

In a bid to hold on to the medical workforce, the government took new measures to counter absences this week.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly issued instructions to governors on Monday to deal strictly with doctors not attending work, and to bar doctors from taking leave for the coming two months. Hospital directors were also instructed to provide lists of absent doctors on Sunday. 

Acting after the meeting with the PM, General Ashraf al-Dawody, the Governor of Qena, acted yesterday to refer 10 members of the medical staff from Qena’s Central Endowment Hospital to a disciplinary committee for taking days off last week.

Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel Aal had paid a surprise visit on Tuesday to the Manshiyet al-Bakry Hospital, where doctors had halted work before Eid citing negligence on the part of hospital administrators among their reasons, as well as overcrowding, delays in testing, and an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among staff. 

Doctors have also been barred from taking holidays over the coming two months, while a report from Al-Manassa detailed threats directed to doctors at a Beheira hospital by officials, including the possibility of military trials as a consequence of non-attendance.

Beyond the top news, a number of other stories related to COVID-19 made it to the headlines in Thursday’s press:

  • No one was happy about the pricing at private hospitals on Wednesday, despite the Cabinet’s decision to cap pricing for COVID-19 treatment in the sector. Patients and the Doctors Syndicate have said the price limits are not being enforced, and decried rates that have rendered treatment inaccessible. On the other side of the coin, the private sector was also up in arms, complaining that stakeholders didn’t get a say in the Cabinet’s pricing decision.
    • A patient being treated at a private hospital was transferred to a public hospital by the Health Ministry on Wednesday, after the patient’s family complained that they could not afford treatment at the private hospital. 
    • MP Solaf Darwish  sent a formal petition to the health minister, accusing private hospitals of exploiting COVID-19 patients. Darwish called on the Health Ministry to monitor private hospitals and ensure they don’t overcharge. 
      •  “How can a private hospital charge LE100,000-200,000 for treatment, and refuse to admit a patient if they cannot pay,” she asked. 
    • Sherine Ghaleb, who heads the Cairo branch of the Doctors Syndicate demanded that the Health Ministry monitor pricing at private hospitals across the country to ensure they were sticking to the ministry’s pricing
      • “If the syndicate receives any further complaints related to prices at private hospitals, it will be due to the Health Ministry’s neglect, and failure to carry out its duty of oversight,” she said.
    • Hepatologist Dr. Alaa Awad called for all private hospitals to be placed under government control for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. Awad condemned private hospitals for allegedly overcharging COVID-19 patients.
      • He asked “Would any other countries allow [private hospitals] to treat patients and charge them such exorbitant prices” in the midst of a pandemic? Private hospitals aren’t happy that the Health Ministry has put a cap on how much they can charge for COVID-19 treatment.” 
    • But in the private sector, Khaled Samir, a board member of the Healthcare Chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, said it was “harsh” that prices had been set without consulting stakeholders, called for stakeholders to be included in an urgent meeting with the Health Ministry and the Doctors Syndicate to come up with a “realistic” pricing scale.
      • “The prices are not appropriate, and cannot be provided in light of high costs” in the sector, said Nader al-Bakkal, who chairs the board of the private Istishari Hospital.
    • Approved on Monday, the limits were set from LE1,500 to LE3,000 per day for a place at an isolation hospital, a place in an ICU without a ventilator at LE 5000 to LE7000, and treatment with a ventilator at  LE 7500 to LE10,000.
       
  • In a push to ensure enough drugs are there to be doled out amid the response to COVID-19, several news items on Wednesday showed efforts to up production: 
    • Factories belonging to the Eva Farm company in Giza are already working to produce remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences antiviral being trialed to combat severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to Health Ministry sources who spoke to Al-Manassa. 2,000 doses are meant to be ready for distribution to isolation hospitals in mid-June. 
    • Health Minister Hala Zayed has called on pharma companies to double their medicine production, especially immunity-boosting medications.

       
  • Other news on Wednesday showed further efforts to bolster capacity in the healthcare system:
    • MP Khaled Helali inquired on Wednesday about the appropriations for local health units in the 2020/21 budget. He pointed out that developing Egypt’s local health units is of extreme importance, especially during the pandemic
    • The government said that Egyptians arriving back after repatriation will no longer be quarantined at hotels or youth hostels, and will instead be told to isolate at home.
    • 5,894 people with mild symptoms are currently quarantining in ministry designated youth hospitals, said Health Minister Hala Zayed on Wednesday, adding that a further 5,484 people are isolating at home.
    • Dr. May al-Batran, an MP, demanded more clarity around the home quarantine protocol, calling for an information campaign to explain how to do it, and when to head to a hospital if symptoms get worse. 
    • Another 160 beds for COVID-19 patients are to be made available at the Abbasiya Chest Hospital, the Cairo governor announced Wednesday, though he didn’t mention the issues the hospital has had with staff capacity after many contracted the virus.
    • Eight new labs are to be brought in to run PCR tests for COVID-19, the Health Ministry announced. This would bring the total number of working labs up to 57 
    • Concerns around PCR testing capacity arose Wednesday in the Monufiya village of  al-Layanah, where a large crowd gathered at a hotel to demand the results of their PCR tests, which are over a week late. The hotel is one of the government’s isolation facilities for cases with mild or moderate symptoms.
    • An infograph released by the Cabinet on Wednesday showed hospitals around the country dealing with coronavirus cases. 24 university hospitals and 340 hospitals are dealing with patients, it showed, of which it says 20 are quarantine hospitals, dedicated to deal only with severe cases of coronavirus.

Who cares for healthcare workers?

  • A doctor who heads the Preventive Medicine Department at the Shubrakhit Health Directorate, Beheira is self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
     

Working with COVID-19:

  • News of how infections are affecting several sites came out on Wednesday, with many employees expected to show up to work regardless of the pandemic
    • An outbreak of COVID-19 has affected seven staff members at the Higher Education Ministry. Two of Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdul Ghaffar’s bodyguards reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, as has the head of the Central Authority for Development and Services which is affiliated to the ministry. An employee at the ministry’s cafeteria, as well as two employees in the political communication office and a cleaner have also tested positive for the virus.
    • General Ayman Lukia, deputy head of the Kafr al-Sheikh Security Directorate tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, as did an assistant secretary working for the governor of Monufiya, although the governor claimed he had contracted the virus outside of work.
    • 56 employees of South Cairo Electricity Distribution Company had tested positive for COVID-19 by May 31, five of whom have died,  according to a letter sent from the firm to the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company. 
    • Rosatom announced a number of measures that will be put in place at the Dabaa nuclear site after a staff member in Atomstroyexport’s Cairo office tested positive for COVID-19. The measures include providing staff with preventive equipment and disinfectants, sanitizing all buildings and the reduction of travel between Cairo office and the site. 
    • A priest at the St Paul Church in Shubra died after contracting COVID-19

Coexisting with coronavirus:

  • In news on the plans marking out how Egypt could lift restrictions on movement under its “coexisting with coronavirus” plan set to roll out mid-June:
    • Despite a hold on construction work elsewhere, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority, instructing representatives to push ahead with projects at the new administrative capital to keep up with the schedule — which has set a deadline for the project to be usable this year. Sisi also reiterated the importance of adhering to government regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
    • A step-by-step timeframe for opening mosques and resuming flights should be out next week said Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad. 
    • During the Cabinet’s Wednesday meeting, Health Minister Hala Zayed talked up the tourist governorates of South Sinai, the Red Sea, Matrouh and the New Valley, which she said had the “lowest recorded rates of infection” in Egypt
    • MP Ayman Aboul Ela, a member of Parliament’s Health Committee, made an ambitious call for a digital tracing system to track patients, describing a chipped bracelet system or a mobile application.
    • MP Mohamed al-Memary, who heads the Health Committee, said that lawmakers will be voting on the law on preventative medicine during Parliament’s next general assembly. The law would specify fines for people not wearing face masks in public, and punishments for anyone preventing the burial of people who have died of COVID-19. Memary pointed out that fines have already been issued before the law’s passage, but justified the move saying that it is “the government’s prerogative to issue administrative decisions to combat certain hazards.” The Interior Ministry reportedly fined 8,000 transit drivers on Wednesday for not wearing face masks.
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