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Keeping the virus at bay
Published in Ahram Online on 27 - 10 - 2020

Daily infections of the coronavirus are increasing in Egypt. In recent weeks infections have passed 150 a day after averaging 100 during the summer months. Amid fears of a second wave of the virus, the Ministry of Health and Population announced the reactivation of its coexistence plan with Covid-19.
According to a recent study, “Coronavirus in Egypt”, conducted by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt ranked 119th in the world with regard to the number of infections and 26th in the world in terms of deaths.
The percentage of infected people in Egypt represents 8.7 per cent of the total number of infections in Africa, second on the continent after South Africa. In the Arab world, Egypt is fourth in the rate of infections; Saudi Arabia is first. As for fatalities, Egypt is second with nearly 6,200 deaths whereas Iraq is first with 6,336.
Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed recently urged health officials to be cautious and to follow up on tightening precautionary measures. The minister said the increase in the number of Covid-19 infections is due to the public's false sense of safety regarding the epidemic, causing them to be lax in adhering to precautionary measures such as wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing.
“Finding a vaccine will not prevent the transmission of infection but will reduce the rate of infection. In case of an infection, it will reduce the severity of symptoms,” Zayed said.
In light of national and international concerns regarding the increase in coronavirus infections around the world, and the recent gradual increase in the number of infections in Egypt, Zayed stressed the importance of implementing the ministry's preventive plan, and the adoption of preventive and precautionary measures to confront the spread of the new wave of coronavirus.
Speaking during a video-conference on 24 October, the minister instructed health officials to follow up on the progress of the ministry's plan via an automated network which connects hospital administrations, the Ambulance Authority and the hotline office. “There is a dire need to adhere to the ministry's preventive and precautionary measures and maintain social distancing in anticipation of an increase in the number of coronavirus infections with the onset of winter and lower temperatures,” Zayed said.
Director of the Centre for Allergy and Immunology at the Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) Amgad Haddad said the increase in the number of people infected with coronavirus is still minor but expected despite people clusters and laxity in adopting the ministry's precautionary measures and refraining from preserving social distancing. “The general indicator for the recent rate is still in the safe zone,” Haddad said.
In fact, the current numbers are only 20 per cent of what they were three months ago, proof that Egypt was successful in combating the virus, Mohamed Awad Tageddin, adviser to the president on health and prevention affairs, told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo on Monday.
While stressing that Egypt is still in the first wave, Haddad was confident that if a second wave came about it will be less ferocious than the first because the virus' strength has weakened. “Though it has witnessed a mild mutation in its symptoms, it will be weaker than the first wave,” Haddad said, stressing the need to continue adopting precautionary measures.
Mohamed Ali, a virologist at the National Research Centre, said it was “normal to witness an increase and decrease in the number of infections and deaths. During the winter, respiratory viruses become active due to low temperatures, therefore staying alive for longer periods. The spread of ordinary influenza makes infection with Covid-19 easier. People must avoid crowded places and maintain social distancing, especially with the beginning of the academic year which sees big crowds among students.”
The message was the same from Tageddin: “With no known vaccines against the virus, the top priority right now is prevention.”
Tageddin told AmCham members that Egypt's 77 chest and fever hospitals were the backbone of the fight against the virus. He said demographics were an added advantage in the fight against Covid-19, adding that 60 per cent of the Egyptian population is under the age of 40, and that only 5-7 per cent of young people who catch the virus show severe symptoms.
Tageddin said he fully supported the Egyptian health protocol and its success in reducing the morbidity rate of patients on mechanical ventilators, citing that the protocol is inspired by previous Egyptian experiences as well as the experience of other countries in combating the virus, including the US and Germany.
The protocol dictates how to treat mild, moderate and severe cases according to international standards, and uses new and updated medications for severe cases, he said. And the protocol is constantly being updated during weekly scientific meetings.
Tageddin said that Egypt will receive its share of the vaccine as soon as it is released since the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will distribute it evenly across the globe.
On the possibility of Egypt forcing a lockdown during the second wave of the Covid-19 virus, Tageddin said Egypt is monitoring the reaction of other countries to try to be prepared for what happens. However, he said that Egypt is prepared for any possibility.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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