Egyptians sign up for vaccines to fight a third Covid-19 wave

Just one per cent of the nation's 100 million people have been inoculated against coronavirus, but 2.4 million have now registered for a jab

Egyptians wait at a government vaccination centre in Cairo's Agouza Hospital. Nada El Sawy / The National
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Outside a government vaccination centre in Cairo, Farid Ahmed awaits his turn to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

The 29-year-old advertising account director had been in no hurry but decided to register on the government website about a month ago.

“Now people are starting to get more convinced to take the vaccine because of new variants,” Mr Ahmed said. “People are realising it’s ignorant not to take it.”

A total of 2.4 million people have registered on the ministry’s vaccination website, which is open for both Egyptians and foreign residents over 18 years old, Assistant Health Minister Mohamed Hasani said on Sunday.

Egypt’s vaccine rollout began with healthcare workers in January, but the country of 100 million people has only inoculated about 1 per cent of its population. Meanwhile, cases have steadily climbed as a third wave of the pandemic grips the nation.

The latest health ministry figures, released on Monday night, show 1,150 new cases and 68 deaths over the previous 24 hours. The daily count is approaching the previous peaks in December and June.

Last week Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced new measures until May 21 to curb the spread of the virus, including a ban on mass celebrations and the closure of public beaches and parks, as the country prepares to celebrate Eid Al Fitr.

Egypt will also require visitors from countries where “variants of concern” have appeared to take a quick Covid-19 test called ID NOW on arrival, the Health Ministry said on Saturday. The country has avoided repeating last year’s lockdown to save the economy, but lax precautionary measures have allowed the virus to spread.

Many citizens, who were either worried about vaccine’s side effects or not convinced of its benefits, now see vaccination as the only way forward.

The new variants and the fact that the situation has not improved in Egypt are what convinced him to get vaccinated, Mr Ahmed said. He was infected about four months ago with mild symptoms, mainly the loss of smell and taste.

He isn’t sure where he got it from. “It could have been from work, the dentist, or the barber,” he said.

Egyptians have largely ignored precautionary measures meant to control the virus. Nada El Sawy / The National

As Egyptians have largely flouted precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and social-distancing protocols, he thinks vaccination is a must.

“Egyptians act like things are normal, but it’s not normal,” he said. “Even if cafes are closed, people go and meet up in the street.” he said, referring to the 9pm closure of restaurants, cafes, malls, gyms and sports clubs. “People are to blame for the spread, more than the disease.”

Ahmed Essmat, also in line at Agouza Hospital, where AstraZeneca and Sinopharm are being offered, said he finally registered for the vaccine about a month ago.

“I was basically quarantined from the start of corona and I don’t go out much,” said Mr Essmat, 58. “But my mom is old, 84. And my children are young – eight and six. So, I’m worried.”

His children went to school for only one day this past academic year to get their books. The rest of the time, they have studied online.

“If the situation is the same next academic year, I won’t send them,” he says.

Dina Mohammed, 32, also registered for the vaccine recently. “Eventually, we will all have to take it to travel and move around freely,” the financial analyst said.

She tries to wear a mask and minimise indoor gatherings, but “not 100 per cent of the time”. She says she has noticed more friends and family registering amid the third wave.

This picture shows boxes of the Chinese Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination campaign at the Boris Trajkovski Arena in Skopje on May 6, 2021.  / AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI

“Of course a lot of people are worried about the increasing cases,” she said. "Let’s see the effect of the vaccine."

More than 237,000 cases of Covid-19 and 13,900 deaths have been recorded in Egypt since the pandemic began. However, the health ministry figures are widely believed to be only a fraction of the actual numbers because of limited testing and the exclusion of treatment outside government hospitals.

Egypt has received more than 1.5 million doses of Sinopharm and AstraZeneca. More are expected to follow as a result of the Covax programme, which aims to ensure equitable access to the vaccines.

The country will start to produce its first two million doses of the Sinovac vaccine in June under agreements signed with China last month.