Egypt’s daily coronavirus cases fall below 1,000 for first time in weeks

Hope is rising that the worst of the pandemic is behind the country

epa08529144 A person wearing face mask and shield attends funeral of Egyptian actress Ragaa El-Gedawy n Cairo, Egypt, 05 July 2020. Actress Ragaa El-Gedawy died aged 81 while at an isolation hospital where she was admitted since testing positive of coronavirus in late May.  EPA/MAHMOUD AHMED
Powered by automated translation

The daily number of Covid-19 cases in Egypt has dipped below 1,000 for the first time in nearly 40 days, giving rise to hope that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may be behind the most populous Arab nation.

The Health Ministry said late on Monday that it recorded 969 cases over the previous 24 hours, breaking an uninterrupted string of 1,000-plus cases that stretches back to May 27, when 910 cases were confirmed.

While the under-1,000 figure is welcome news amid the grimness brought about by the pandemic, it is likely too soon to interpret it as the start of a downward trend that will eventually see the demise of the deadly disease.

A senior adviser for emergencies at the Health Ministry, Shereef Wadea, cautioned against premature assumptions in comments published on Tuesday in the local media. He said the number of cases must drop for 14 consecutive days before authorities can confidently declare that infections have peaked and numbers would start to fall.

Egyptians have been waiting with some trepidation to see whether figures for Covid-19 cases and deaths this month would rise after the government almost completely reopened the country on June 27 after three months of various degrees of lockdown to contain the pandemic.

Senior government officials have said the curve of infections and deaths was expected to level out during the first half of this month before it is flattened. But these forecasts are yet to be validated. The officials also acknowledge that the actual number of infections may be 10 times those announced by the Health Ministry and may be as much as 1 million.

The government says it has dealt with the pandemic professionally and transparently and dismisses claims of a cover-up as baseless or a plot by its enemies to sow doubts about its efficiency.

In its daily report, the Health Ministry on Monday said 79 people have died of Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours, the second consecutive day in which fewer than 80 people succumbed to the disease. The two days of under-80 fatalities broke a string of 80-plus deaths stretching back to June 18, when 79 died.

The lower figures for Covid-19 cases and fatalities come on the heels of the deadliest month since the pandemic broke out in mid-February, with numbers in June for both categories accounting for more than 50 per cent of those in the previous four months combined.

The number of Covid-19 cases stood at 76,222 as of Monday night, when fatalities reached 3,422, one of the highest in the Arab world.

Egypt has been grappling with the pandemic against a backdrop of a simmering and potentially damaging dispute between the government and members of the medical profession. So far, 117 doctors, 39 nurses and 32 pharmacists have died from Covid-19, while thousands have fallen ill, the Associated Press reported on Monday, citing union statistics.

So, when Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said last month that absenteeism and negligence by doctors in parts of the country were behind a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, members of the medical profession were enraged.

The doctors’ union rejected the accusation and demanded that the prime minister apologise. Mr Madbouli did not offer an apology but later received the head of the union in his office in what appeared to be a conciliatory meeting.

At least 10 doctors have been arrested for publicly criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic, according to rights groups, several of them were detained for publicly vilifying the prime minister or complaining about the alleged shortage of protective gear for medical staff at hospitals.

At least six journalists have also been detained for spreading false news on the pandemic.

President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has lavishly praised members of the medical profession virtually every time he spoke in public in the last three months. A general turned president, he also has adopted the phrase coined by the media to refer to them as “the white army.” He also ordered a significant salary raise for them.

The military, meanwhile, has been distributing free masks and set up several field hospitals for use if the need arises, including one in Cairo with a 4,000-bed capacity. Authorities have also increased the number of testing carried out in response to criticism that not enough testing was being done.