Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Coronavirus: Egypt faces record rise in worst month so far

As the country opens up, officials warned a dramatic spike in infections could mean some sites and facilities have to close again

A man wearing a protective face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rides a motorcycle with his wife in Abu Kabir, north of Cairo, Egypt. Reuters
A man wearing a protective face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rides a motorcycle with his wife in Abu Kabir, north of Cairo, Egypt. Reuters

Egypt has announced new record highs for the number of daily Covid-19 deaths and cases, pointing to a steadily worsening pandemic in the most populous Arab nation as it loosens lockdown restrictions.

On Monday night the Health Ministry reported 1,691 new cases of Covid-19 over the preceding 24 hours, passing the previous record of 1,677 cases registered on June 13. The latest figure takes to 46,289 the number of cases in Egypt since the outbreak of the coronavirus began four months ago.

Of that total, 21,312, or nearly 50 per cent, have been recorded since June 1 – further evidence that this month has been by far the worst since Egypt’s battle to contain the pandemic began in mid-February.

In another grim milestone, the Health Ministry said on Sunday that 97 people succumbed to the respiratory disease over the same period. It’s a new record that takes the total number of Covid-19-linked fatalities to 1,672, of which 713 occurred this month alone.

These Covid-19 figures remain relatively low for a country of Egypt’s size – 100 million people – but officials acknowledge that they could be substantially higher since no mass testing has been carried out.

The government maintains that it has dealt scientifically, professionally and transparently with the pandemic and has rejected accusations of a cover-up. The pro-government media has accused the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to undermine public confidence in the authorities’ handling of the pandemic, spreading rumours of inefficiency or negligence in the health sector.

A senior health ministry official said last week that the number of cases will continue to rise during the remainder of June, with daily cases possibly reaching a high of 2,500, but that the curve would be flattened by mid-July.

The government has been seeking to strike a balance between protecting Egyptians from the pandemic and preventing the economy from tanking.

It has been gradually easing the lockdown imposed in March while counselling that, with a vaccine not yet developed, people must learn to live with the coronavirus while taking precautions like social distancing and embracing stringent hygiene standards.

Authorities hope this strategy, which is embraced elsewhere in the world, will keep the economy afloat while preventing a large spike in infections.

The wearing of masks is now mandatory in public spaces, including public transport, government offices and banks, but many Egyptians have continued to take a dangerously casual approach to the pandemic.

Since June 1, police have fined or filed reports against thousands of motorists and taxi drivers for failing to wear masks or allowing passengers to travel without one.

On July 1, Egypt’s airports are set to reopen along with beach resorts in the southern region of the Sinai Peninsula, the Red Sea’s mainland coastline and west of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Sports clubs are also scheduled to reopen on July 1 and some sports events are set to resume.

Historical sites and some museums will also gradually reopen to the public.

Officials, however, have warned that a dramatic spike in the number of Covid-19 cases could lead to a slowdown in reopening the country or re-closing some of the more vulnerable sites and facilities.

Updated: June 16, 2020 03:23 PM

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