Daily COVID-19 roundup: May 20

Editor’s note: The daily COVID-19 roundup is part of the Mada Morning Digest, our daily overview of what is making waves in the Arabic language press. If you want all the latest updates on COVID-19 and other leading stories including coverage of the economy, foreign policy, Parliament, the judiciary, media and much more — to land in your mailbox each morning, subscribe for a free trial here

Here are the latest figures on COVID-19 as of Tuesday, May 19:


New cases Recovered New deaths
720 274 14
Current cases Total cases Total deaths
8,550 13,484 659


Sawiris, chambers of commerce push for business as usual despite Tuesday surge in new cases

Naguib Sawiris representatives from Egypt’s chambers of commerce are pushing for business as usual despite Tuesday surge in new cases Tuesday saw the number of COVID-19 cases registered per day surge up to reach 720. The Health Ministry did not comment.

Nevertheless, signs of a persistent push toward getting the country back to work, in line with a mid-June target to kick off the “coexisting with coronavirus” plan, continued both in government and without.

Instead of stepping up the imperative for the government to tighten precautions, MP Saeed Shabayek continued a line that has centered individual responsibility as the key to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. He blamed citizens heading out to Iftar meals and crowding markets during Ramadan for the ascending number of cases, after the Health Ministry registered record-high numbers of new cases for two consecutive days.

And regardless of the numbers, key players in the business world increased pressure on the government on Tuesday to relax lockdown measures as soon as possible. 

Billionaire business magnate Naguib Sawiris gave an outspoken interview to Russia Today, making no bones about his belief in the relative unimportance of deaths as a result of the coronavirus. 

While Sawiris has been pushing for a return to business as usual since early on in Egypt’s pandemic, Tuesday saw the Orascom owner upping the ante. Sawiris is quoted in the privately-owned Al-Watan, under a headline which reads, “People will die of hunger, job opportunities will vanish.” Sawiris dismissed the daily death rate, saying, “20 deaths in a country with a population of 100 million — is that a number?!”

The Cairo Chamber of Commerce took on a similar tone, with Ibrahim al-Araby, who heads the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, reportedly urging the assembly to cooperate with the government to implement the “coexisting with coronavirus plan,” according to Ahmed al-Wassimi, the deputy head of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce. Coverage in the privately-owned Youm7 quotes Wassimi as noting the importance of resuming production while ensuring that health precautions are in place to “preserve the public interest.” 

As well as disregarding an upward trend in the number of cases, the momentum building toward lifting the lockdown in mid-June comes despite a major question mark over the capacity of Egypt’s health system to absorb and process suspected cases of the virus.

News on Tuesday also saw the Health Ministry shorten the period of quarantine required for repatriated Egyptians to seven days, down from the previously recommended 14.  Returnees will be subject to the less accurate rapid testing procedures on arrival at quarantine facilities and will be tested again as they leave after seven days. If positive, they will be transported to quarantine hospitals.

The ministry has likewise been pushing a protocol for self-isolation, to reduce the number of patients coming into hospitals.

At the same time, the Health Ministry appears to have applied pressure to private hospitals, according to a piece on the privately-owned Masrawy news website, requiring the private facilities to pull their weight in processing patients with coronavirus symptoms after complaints that patients with respiratory symptoms were being turned away.

Other top news items related to COVID-19 that made it to the headlines in Wednesday’s press include:

  • Imbaba Fever Hospital, one of the hospitals tasked with sorting through patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, caught fire on Tuesday evening. No casualties were reported, and the cause of the fire remains unknown
  • Coverage on Tuesday attested to a flurry of action in Daqahlia, as officials rushed to coordinate the sanitization of government buildings and to test government employees after the governor of Daqahlia was reported to have contracted the virus on Monday. 100 people from the governorate’s administrative office were tested. Contact tracing followed up on the governor’s recent meetings with officials from the irrigation, environment and local development ministries, and saw several other state buildings sterilized on Tuesday.
  • After Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly announced tighter measures for the extended Eid holiday beginning Sunday, May 24, including a tighter curfew beginning at 5 pm, Madbuly detailed on Tuesday how the lockdown will proceed from May 30 for the 15 days after Eid:
    • Curfew will be moved back to 8 pm after Eid, and the number of employees going to work in the public sector will be reduced. 
    • Public services, stores, restaurants, markets and malls will likewise return to the current precautionary measures. 
    • A maximum fine of LE4,000 will be implemented after Eid on anyone failing to stick to the directive to wear masks in public. The Cabinet spox announced that the government will ensure free masks are available for lower-income families and on public transport.
    • Egypt needs 120 million masks daily” if everyone is to get one, according to Mohamed Ismail, who heads the Cairo Chamber of Commerce’s medical supplies division and who spoke to the DMC channel on Tuesday night. Commenting on the low number of masks available for citizens, Ismail urged them to use tissues instead.
    • Amid measures to keep domestic tourism ticking over despite the Eid lockdown, 18 hotels from the South Sinai, Red Sea and Matrouh governorates were granted health safety certificates approved by the Tourism Ministry
  • In ongoing efforts to free up capacity in the health system to absorb COVID-19 patients:
    • Ahmed Maher Hospital announced a new protocol to deal with testing suspected patients, following in the footsteps of the Luxor Hospital on Monday.
    • Zaitoun Specialized Hospital was converted into a quarantine hospital in an attempt to increase healthcare capacity for COVID-19 patients.
  • The efforts come after the Doctors Syndicate expressed concern about capacity last week, although the Cabinet denied there was an issue on Friday. Three medical syndicates have also requested that the Cabinet and the president intervene to provide better testing for medical staff, as reports of infections continue to roll in. On Tuesday:
    • A teaching assistant at Sohag University Hospital contracted the coronavirus.
    • The Doctors Syndicate mourned the death of a renowned ophthalmologist in the Delta, after he contracted COVID-19.
    • Mar Morcos Hospital issued a statement explaining the conditions surrounding the death of Dr. Fekry Mounir, who had contracted COVID-19.
    • A Daqahilia doctor who works at the Dikirnis Hospital has been investigated by the governorate’s health directorate on charges of posting about coronavirus on his personal FB account. He’s awaiting disciplinary action.
  • Among the spike in cases announced Tuesday, many were among those still attending workplaces.
    • The head of the Stamp Authority at the Supply Ministry contracted COVID-19.
    • Former Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy was diagnosed with the virus. 
    • A member of the security personnel at the National Bank of Egypt in Damanhour has contracted the virus. As a precautionary measure, all in contact with the patient have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • A branch of the Abu Dhabi bank in Aswan has closed its doors after one of its employees contracted the coronavirus.

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