Coronavirus: Egypt fears surge as cases near critical point

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Egypt may be approaching a surge in coronavirus infections despite government restrictions meant to curb their spread, a senior crisis management official said.

The government has been reporting 40-50 new cases every day for nearly a week, much higher than the single-digit increases before that. Thursday’s figure of 71 was the highest so far, taking the total to 850 cases with at least 52 deaths from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by virus.

Gen Mohammed Abdel-Maqsoud, director of the Chamber of Crisis Management at the prime minister’s office, said that at the current rate, the number of cases could hit the critical 1,000 mark within days.

“We hoped not to exceed 500 this current week … we needed to stay at that level for as long as we possibly could,” Gen Abdel-Maqsoud said in a television interview on Wednesday night.

”Regrettably, the current surging rate [of infections] and the level of non-commitment [to social distancing or staying at home] by some citizens will lead us into the third stage,” he said.

“The problem with reaching 1,000 infections is that they increase by geometric progression from then on and within two or three days the infections will reach 2,500.”

Officials say the problem with crossing the 1,000-case threshold is that it then becomes difficult for health workers to identify, locate and test all those who have had contact with the infected.

The threat to Egypt is compounded by the concentration of its 100 million population on less than 10 per cent of its land, while it public health sector was neglected for decades until recently.

Gen Abdel-Maqsoud said only six quarantine hospitals had been used so far and that nearly 30 more had been readied to accommodate the expected increase in cases. Private hospitals would join the national effort to contain the outbreak, he said, while hotels and schools were being equipped to operate as hospitals.

To limit the spread of the virus, the government has imposed a night-time curfew, halted international flights, and closed education institutions, places of worship, restaurants, cinemas and other public gathering places. The authorities also called on people to observe precautions such as maintaining distance and avoiding going outside as much as possible, sending out the message through radio and TV spots and on street billboards.

Libyans wearing protective face masks queue in front of a bank in the centre of the capital Tripoli amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

A medical staffer wearing protective gear stands in a hallway at Basra University Hospital, where Covid-19 patients are treated, in the southern Iraqi city. AFP

Farah Al-Awadi, a 28-year-old Iraqi woman who has contracted coronavirus disease, takes selfies with a member of the medical team during quarantine in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. Reuters

Palestinian fitness trainer and bodybuilding Ahmed Sawi uses alternative tools as a weight as he trains at his home in Gaza City. AFP

Islam Bseileh, a 29-year-old Palestinian who used to work in Israel, waves to his wife and two kids (all wearing masks) as he receives food they delivered to him while in quarantine in his home in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. AFP

A garbage collector pushes a wheelbarrow across the empty Galata bridge in Istanbul, after Turkish officials have repeatedly urged citizens to stay home and respect social distancing rules. AFP

A watch showing the time at noon, is displayed for a photo in front of the Roman amphitheatre, which is empty during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Amman, Jordan. Reuters

A stray dog during a animal food distribution near Sultanahmet mosque (blue mosque) in Istanbul after Turkish officials have repeatedly urged citizens to stay home amid the spread of the coronavirus. AFP

A Palestinian vendor waits to sell vegetables in the West Bank city of Nablus. EPA

Palestinian workers at the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) wearing protective masks upload food aid rations for poor refugee families, at a UN school in Gaza City. EPA

A man holds a pocket watch at noon, as he shows the time while posing for photo at an almost empty market near the Imam Ali shrine, during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Najaf, Iraq. Reuters

A medical staffer wearing protective gear inspects chest X-ray scans at Basra University Hospital, where Covid-19 coronavirus patients are treated, in the southern Iraqi city. AFP

Internally displaced boy, Mahmoud Abdel Hadi, 8, does his homework received on mobile, inside his tent after his tented school was shut due to the threat of coronavirus disease in Atmeh camp, near the Turkish border, Syria. Reuters

Syrians wearing face masks walk in front of posters informing about the novel coronavirus, in the capital Damascus. AFP

Egyptians Mahmoud Saad (left) plays saxophone and Mohamed Adel (right) violin on their balcony during curfew in Giza, Egypt. EPA

A Tunisian police robot patrols along Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the centre of the capital Tunis, as a means of enforcing a nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

However, some Egyptians have taken a casual attitude towards the health threat, as seen when thousands flocked to beaches on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, prompting authorities to close them. The government has not yet suggested a complete lockdown, but some officials have hinted at harsher measures if the situation gets worse.

At the same time, the government has been under pressure from businessmen to ease the existing measures to allow the economy to function normally.

“If this goes on for too long, it’s possible the country will be bankrupt and we’ll have hunger, famine and chaos,” the billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter, where he has 6.3 million followers.

“We must begin to think how we go back to work and what precautions we should take to avoid infection," he said in another tweet that triggered heated debate on social media about balancing the need to protect lives with preventing a recession and enabling the millions of workers reliant on daily wages to feed their families.

The government has already announced an economic stimulus package and pledged an additional one billion pounds (Dh233.25 million) to the health sector, whose 2019-2020 budget was 125bn pounds.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi ordered a salary increase for healthcare employees and on Wednesday promised the government would cover the cost of keeping hundreds of repatriated Egyptians at hotels for a two-week, medically-supervised quarantine.

Updated: April 2, 2020 09:55 PM

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