The daily number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Egypt has stayed below 1,000 in the first half of July, raising hopes that the infection curve of the deadly coronavirus pandemic in the most populous Arab nation may have finally flattened before it eventually declines.
Egypt’s government had by Friday reported a total of 86,474 cases and 4,188 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-February. These are relatively small numbers for a country of 100 million people. Officials and doctors acknowledge that the actual figures could be 10 times higher or more but deny a cover-up or manipulation of the figures.
The figures released daily by the Health Ministry have widely been taken as a reliable indicator of the trend in infections and fatalities rather than an accurate count. With testing limited, tens of thousands who show mild symptoms of Covid-19 and are simply told to go home and isolate. The disease is also seen as a stigma among segments of the population, forcing many to conceal their ailment and seek treatment outside the state health system.
Coronavirus in the Middle East
After more cases and deaths in June than in the previous four months combined, July has so far been a welcome respite. The government’s decision to almost completely reopen the country on June 27 after a three-month lockdown raised fears that it was acting in haste or putting the economy before public health, but these have proved largely unfounded. Authorities have long maintained that, until a vaccine is developed, Egyptians must learn to live with Covid-19 by taking precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces.
The 15,620 cases recorded from July 1-15 was 26.68 per cent lower than in the corresponding period of June, while the 1,025 deaths represented a more modest decline of 6.47 per cent. The improvement is even more marked when compared to the latter half of June, which saw infections and deaths increasing steadily. The number of cases reported till July 15 was 29.07 per cent lower than the number reported from June 16-30, while deaths dropped by 19.98 per cent.
If this trend is sustained, it will significantly bolster the government’s standing, validating its handling of the pandemic and cementing the popularity of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi at a time when he is grappling with major challenges on other fronts.
Egypt is in tortuous negotiations with Ethiopia to ensure that its share of Nile water, on which it depends for more than 90 per cents of its needs, is not affected by the massive dam built by Addis Ababa.
Egypt is also growing increasingly concerned about the conflict in next door Libya where Turkey, its arch enemy, is supporting one of two rival administrations by deploying Syrian militants and throwing its own military weight behind homegrown extremist groups.