Daily COVID-19 roundup: June 30
 
 

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 Monday, June 29:

New infections: 1,566
New deaths: 83
Total number of cases: 66,754
Total deaths: 2,872
Total number of recovered cases: 17,951

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Seven COVID-19 patients killed in hospital fire

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Seven COVID-19 patients were killed and another nine injured after a major fire broke out Monday at the Badrawi Isolation Hospital in Alexandria.

With the incident showing up cracks in Egypt’s healthcare system that put patients at an added risk, the Public Prosecution has ordered an audit of the hospital’s fire and industrial safety licenses as part of a formal investigation into what happened on Monday morning. Hospital officials have also been questioned on the validity of their licenses, including permissions they hold to treat COVID-19 patients.

A short-circuit in an air conditioning unit within the hospital’s ICU ward is thought to be the source of the fire.  

Other updates in Monday’s news also pointed to gaps in the healthcare system — from systems for filing insurance paperwork to the availability of contraceptives and clarity around the messaging on sexual health — that could put citizens at risk:

  • More images of large crowds came out on Monday, this time in front of the health insurance office of the town of Derb Negm in Sharqiya. The crowds were there to file the paperwork for their childrens’ medical insurance applications, in line with the system for children at state schools.
     
  • After the announcement of a campaign to “postpone pregnancy” elicited criticism from health experts for failing to provide women with sufficient information on available methods of contraception, the Health Ministry’s family planning unit announced on Monday “that all birth control medications are available at the ministry’s health units countrywide.” There’s still no word of a supply push to facilitate reducing pregnancy rates, however, despite frequent problems with sudden shortages of contraceptive pills in the past. 

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Who cares for healthcare workers?

The Doctors Syndicate “is not an opposition party, we are merely a professional syndicate and a joint syndicate-ministerial committee would “deprive subversive elements from exploiting crises into their own favor” –  Dr. Abo Bakr al-Qady, a member of the Doctors Syndicate

 

The Doctors Syndicate looks to be attempting a de-escalation after security forces prevented board members from accessing their offices on Saturday where they had planned to broadcast a virtual press conference responding to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbuly.

 The syndicate said later it was postponed for “technical reasons.” 

 Dr. Abo Bakr al-Qady, a member of the syndicate’s board, spoke to Al-Masry Al-Youm on Monday, announcing a proposal to form a joint syndicate-ministerial committee to be tasked with addressing doctors’ complaints, and demanding to allow the ministry and the syndicate to settle conflicts in private and “put an end to claim-making statements and letters.” Putting an “end to conflicts requires face-to-face meetings,” added Al-Qady, whose interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm was published on the syndicate’s official social media pages. 

In the meantime, Parliament’s Health Committee approved the Cabinet-proposed law on medical professions that will introduce modest increases to doctors’ and other medical workers’ infection risk allowances. The law also opens the path to increasing the retirement age of medical professionals. In case of shortages in certain specializations, the ministry can extend the retirement age of medical professionals until 62, who will in turn get paid both their pensions and salaries during the two-year extension. The law will also allow the ministry to retain professionals up to the age of 65 on a contract basis.  

And the health minister has added four new doctors to the ministry’s Scientific Committee to Combat COVID-19: 

  • Dr. Ihab Atteya, head of the ministry’s Infection Control Unit
  • Dr. Ahmed Shawky, a pulmonology professor at Tanta University
  • Dr. Khaled Abdel Meguid, a specialist in critical care
  • Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hakim  

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What were officials saying about COVID-19 on Tuesday?

“The so-called ‘medical’ masks in Egypt’s markets are useless” — Dr. Sherif Ezzat, head of the Medical Supplies Chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries 

According to Ezzat, only COVID-19 patients and those around them should wear medical masks. Ezzat added that the masks being sold to the Egyptian public are not medical grade, and do not provide substantial protection, adding that they may even collect dust and germs after four hours. Ezzat’s comments came despite a laborious process to set government standards for mask production that came alongside a crackdown on unofficial and unlicensed producers. Continuing the crackdown on Monday, a court renewed the remand detention period of a man who was arrested for being in possession of 2,940 masks “that do not meet the proper specifications.” In news of officially sanctioned mask production, the Petroleum Ministry-owned company Suez Safety Outfitters announced it would be mass-producing cloth masks for domestic sale. 

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 Coexisting with COVID-19

“Coronavirus crisis has introduced new developments, election campaigns will look different from the old ones with the election rallies and conferences we’re used to. Social media will have more weight. Young people will be better suited to use social media in election campaigns as coronavirus changes how elections are held”

— Ahmed Muqalled, member of the Coordination of Party and Political Youth

 

“Elections to both the House of the Senate and the House of Representatives should be held at the same time, especially under the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic”

— Bahaa Abo Shaqa, President of the Wafd Party

As elections to both the upper and lower houses of Parliament approach, commentators wondered on Monday how the pandemic will affect the ballot.

MP and head of Al-Wafd Party Bahaa Eddin Abo Shaqa pushed for voting to both chambers to be held at once, due to the “exceptional conditions” caused by the pandemic and — quite apart from the infection risk for the demos — his desire to “limit the pressure on parties.”

Elections to the Senate are currently chalked for August, while voting for the House of Representatives is due to be held in November. 

Of the proposals to limit infection risk that have been made, calls for digital voting haven’t gained much traction, though Ahmed Muqalled, member of the Coordination of Party and Political Youth made the case for social media campaigns to make it big in this year’s elections. Speaking to anchor Azza Mostafa on the Sada al-Balad TV channel, Muqalled reeled out a “social media campaigning is the future” line, implying that the Coordination could really come into its own under these circumstances. Yet, he added that the Coordination, which comprises members from 26 parties, has not yet decided whether it will run as an entity on its own this year. 

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Building after the pandemic?

“Government spending on building and construction projects in next year’s budget stands at LE300 billion… Egypt’s urban growth in next decade will amount to 30% of the whole world’s urban growth”

— Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly

 

“Constructing roads, combating informal settlements are matters of national security”

— Former Deputy Interior Minister General Mohamed Zaki 

 

“Moratorium on building is […] in the public interest; both the state’s and the people’s” — President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

 

“The [moratorium] has led companies, factories, and labor to come to a halt, especially informal daily labor. Did we understudy the [decision] to that degree?”

— Youssri al-Moghazy, Deputy Chair of Parliament’s Housing Committee

 

Egypt’s government has big plans for the construction sector over the coming fiscal year, which will begin on Wednesday. 

LE300 billion is earmarked for construction projects, said Prime Minister Madbuly on Monday adding that total government spending on the sector in 2020/21 could reach up to LE400 billion after taking into account additional expenditure from independent economic authorities and publicly owned companies.

He justified the construction focus by identifying it as the “sector that accommodates the most labor force” in Egypt, adding that he wanted it working “in full power next year.” 

Yet even as the PM spoke, a 6-month moratorium on private construction and licensing for new constructions is ongoing in Egypt, as lawmakers at a Monday Housing Committee meeting were painfully aware. The MPs blasted the impact of the construction ban, pointing to the impact on building material manufacturers, real estate companies, and informal laborers.

Despite their emphasis on the fallout from the decision, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave his personal assurance that the 6-month construction ban is in the “public interest,” as he gave a major public address at the Monday opening of the renovated Baron Palace.

Despite the energy with which the PM and the president spoke on construction, the slump in Egypt’s cement manufacturing sector is ongoing. According to Solomon Baumgartner Aviles, CEO of Lafarge Group in Egypt, demand for cement has fallen by 15% year-on-year for the first four months of 2020.

Cement manufacturing in particular has been struggling since well before the pandemic, after the Armed Forces entered the sector with a mega factory in Beni Suef. With Armed Forces companies benefitting from tax breaks and low labor costs, the additional supply from Beni Suef brought down prices while there was no increase in demand. Several companies have vocally contemplated exiting the Egyptian market.

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Working with COVID-19

“Tourists who come to Red Sea, South Sinai, or Marsa Matrouh will be obliged not to travel to Cairo”

—  Nader Saad, Cabinet Spokesperson

“We are getting ready to allow [occupancy rate ] of 50% starting from Wednesday”

—  Tourism Minister Khaled al-Anany 

With flights due to start up again on Wednesday, the reopening of the tourism sector is gaining steam with 400 hotels, and around 144 tourist restaurants and cafes are now possessed of their health hygiene certificates under the Tourism Ministry’s push for reopening. The ceiling for guest capacity at hotels will also be raised to 50% on Wednesday, following weeks of complaints from hotel owners against the previous 25% occupancy rate, which many deemed financially unfeasible. 

Tourists arriving from Wednesday into Egypt’s tourist governorates — the Red Sea, Marsa Matrouh and South Sinai — will be required to stay within the governorate, as a nod toward restricting movement to limit infection. 

  • Ready for commercial and charter flights to begin again, and with an apparently franker recognition of the infection risk than in most sectors, Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Manar announced that the EgyptAir hospital and another unspecified private hospital are ready to treat ministry workers who test positive for COVID-19.
     
  • The Social Solidarity Ministry announced 15 conditions for reopening kindergartens on Monday, including a 50% cap on capacity, regular temperature checks for staff and children, while any staff members who are pregnant or who suffer from chronic illnesses must remain at home.
     
  • Ticket sales in cinemas reached LE24,000 on the second day after reopening; more than double the LE11,000 they made on the first day.
     
  • In news on exams, head of Al-Azhar institute’s exams department Ali Khalil announced that 11 Al-Azhar students who had COVID-19 symptoms were placed in isolation to complete their exams.
     
  • The Sadat University in Monufiya has accused a number of students of trying to attend their exams despite the fact that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are suspected to have contracted the virus. The university accused the students of recklessness and a lack of conscience.
     
  • Tests came back negative on Monday for players from the Al-Ahly SC and the Arab Contractors SC football teams, after the Football Association ordered clubs to test players before the premier league resumes — probably late next month. Management staff for the Arab Contractors said they’re now feeling easier about resuming games. Not all teams were as fortunate, with the Alexandria Union team announcing Monday that one of its players had tested positive, as did another player from Enpi football club.
     
  • Former Tanta SC football player Mohamed Aloush died from COVID-19 and was buried in his home village yesterday. Aloush and his entire family had contracted COVID-19 over the past few weeks and his mother also died of the disease a few days before him.
     
  • Just as the Coptic church prepares to return to holding public services, the Naga Hamadi Diocese has announced that three of its priests have tested positive for COVID-19. 
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