Egypt passes 10,000 registered Covid-19 deaths

Doctors and experts say the actual number is likely much higher

A resident of the Tahya Misr housing project in Al-Asmarat district wears a face mask and carries her son amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Al Mokattam, east of Cairo, Egypt January 30, 2021. Picture taken January 30, 2021. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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More than 10,000 people in Egypt have died of Covid-19, the Ministry of Health and Population’s latest daily figures show.

The 613 new infections and 56 deaths registered on Monday brought the total number of official coronavirus cases to 174,426 and deaths to 10,050. Globally, the pandemic has infected more than 27.6 million people and caused more than 2.4 million deaths.

Doctors and experts said the actual number of infections and deaths in Egypt is probably much higher due to limited testing, the exclusion of asymptomatic cases and the lack of thorough investigations into causes of death.

10,000 is very, very, very low. I speculate that it's at least 10 times more than that

“I can guarantee that 10,000 is very, very, very low. I speculate that it’s at least 10 times more than that,” said Dr Ahmed Ismail, an internal medicine and rheumatology consultant at Egypt Air Hospital in Cairo.

Official figures only include patients who displayed symptoms and went to government hospitals for PCR testing rather than private labs. They do not include those who self-quarantine at home.

In June, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said the real number of infections is probably five to 10 times those reported.

One indication is the number of physicians who have died since the start of the pandemic — 374 as of Tuesday, according to the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, a group representing healthcare workers.

Dr Kareem Mesbah, a member of the syndicate board, said the group estimates there are about 160,000 doctors in Egypt, which means about 0.25 per cent of the physician population has died from Covid-19.

Physicians are a high-risk group, so it is unlikely that the same logic holds true for the general population.

“But 0.25 per cent of a population of 100 million is 250,000. So, if we take that impression, we know 10,000 is far from the real number,” said Dr Mesbah, a gynaecologist at Beni Suef General Hospital, south of Cairo.

Based on official figures, Egypt only has 10.15 deaths per 100,000 population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.

Its mortality rate of 5.76 per cent is the sixth highest in the world, after Yemen, Mexico, Syria, Sudan and Ecuador. However, the case-fatality ratio may be skewed because limited testing identifies far fewer mild cases.

Egypt launched its vaccination programme on January 24 using the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, starting with medical staff dealing with Covid-19 patients.

Medical staff at 363 isolation and fever hospitals had been inoculated as of last week, Hala Zayed, Egypt’s minister of Health and Population, said at a World Health Organisation briefing on Thursday.

Patients with chronic illnesses and all medical staff at general hospitals will begin receiving vaccines on Saturday, Ms Zayed said.

Dr Mesbah of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate estimates about 1,500 physicians have been vaccinated so far.

The country received its first batch of 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine in December and last month received 50,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses.

The country expects to receive another 40 million Sinopharm doses and 20 million Astra-Zeneca doses, in addition to a further 40 million doses through the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, including two large shipments by the end of this month.

Members of the public will be able to register for the vaccine on a government website, but the ministry has not yet announced when the site will go live.

Only about 1 per cent of the population of the Middle East has received a first coronavirus vaccine shot, the WHO said.

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