No backup sent to hospital after most of its medical staff contract coronavirus
An older man, wearing a protective mask amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks on the Qasr el-Nil Bridge across the Nile river in Egyptian capital Cairo, Egypt March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Fifty-two medical workers and staff at Abbaseya Chest Hospital have contracted the coronavirus, along with a number of their family members, and are all being quarantined in the hospital, according to medical sources. The medical staff are demanding that the hospital stop receiving new COVID-19 patients until a backup medical team can come in to cover the staff shortage.

According to the sources, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, the director of Abbaseya Chest Hospital claimed he had repeatedly called on the Health Ministry to send in a backup medical team but received no response. The sources said the director nevertheless insisted on keeping the hospital operational, which the sources said endangered the lives of health workers and patients. Mada Masr attempted to contact the hospital director, Mohamed Eid, but received no response.

More than 70 PCR tests were administered to hospital staff over the past several days after many began exhibiting symptoms, according to the sources. Ten doctors, 35 nursing staff and seven janitors all tested positive. The positive staff and family members, including children aged between three and five years old, are currently crammed inside the ICU and specialized wards.

More than two-thirds of the medical team at Abbaseya Chest Hospital are currently unable to work after contracting the virus, but the hospital still receives hundreds of patients a day, the sources said. There are currently 23 patients in the ICU ward being treated by only three nurses in each of the morning and night shifts, far lower than the recommended number of nine nurses per shift. Additionally, only one nurse per shift is on call at the hospital’s reception. 

“Every 30 minutes, a patient dies in front of our eyes before we even take a swab, and we can’t do anything for them,” one of the sources said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Doctors Syndicate, Hussein Khairy, met with Health Minister Hala Zayed to address challenges faced by medical workers amid the pandemic. Zayed said in a press release on Sunday that steps have been taken to develop a hazard pay fund for medical workers in coordination with the Cabinet and the Finance Ministry, and that the medical professionals’ allowance has been raised to 75 percent. She also said that the ministry is currently considering raising the retirement age to 62.

Zayed claimed the ministry performs PCR tests for working medics who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. The minister said that over 10,000 PCR tests have been performed on medical workers since the onset of the pandemic in Egypt and that each quarantine hospital has 20 beds dedicated to healthcare workers who contract the virus.

The Doctors Syndicate issued its own statement saying that Khairy reiterated all previous demands made by the syndicate for the ministry to protect medical workers. The statement also said a direct communications channel between the syndicate and the health minister had been established to address problems faced by medical workers more rapidly.

The meeting came amid simmering tensions between the Health Ministry and the Doctors Syndicate that came to a head last week following the case of a 32-year-old doctor who died waiting for a PCR test and a hospital bed. The incident prompted the Doctors Syndicate to blast the Health Ministry for delays in moving the doctor to a quarantine hospital and to threaten to take “all necessary legal action to go after all those involved in the negligence” related to his death. The syndicate also blasted the ministry’s overall handling of doctors’ work, depicting the doctor’s death as just one of many cases of negligence. 

Prior to his meeting with Zayed on Sunday, Khairy and several syndicate board members met with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly last week to address recurring problems faced by medical workers, particularly shortages in medical supplies and infection control equipment in some hospitals. They also demanded that a central hospital in each governorate or a regional hospital in each of the seven regions of the country be designated for quarantine doctors who contract the coronavirus.

Demands also included that all medical workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients get PCR testing and be allowed to isolate at home or at the healthcare facility where they work until their results come back, with a second swab to be taken within 48 hours if they exhibit any symptoms.

Separately, Madbuly convened a meeting on Saturday with the government medical task force to address the rising number of cases in Egypt. The task force includes the ministers of health, higher education, interior and information; the advisor to the president on health affairs and prevention; the chairman of the Egyptian Agency for Medical Standard Procurement, Provision and Supply; and other senior officials, according to a Cabinet statement. 

The primary outcomes of the meeting included:

  • Costs for hospitalization at private hospitals, which are increasingly being tapped to treat COVID-19 cases, shall be capped. The decision came in response to inflated pricing for treatment and isolation at several private hospitals in recent weeks.
  • University hospitals, operating under the supervision of the Higher Education Ministry, shall be optimized for the highest possible capacity in coordination with the Health Ministry’s medical teams in an effort to combat the virus.
  • Assuring that medical supplies are disbursed to all medical personnel and not held in storage.


The Health Ministry also provided new data on the number of cases and treatment units, including:

  • The worst-hit governorates are Cairo, Giza, Qalyubiya, Monufiya, Fayoum, Alexandria and Beheira. As of May 30, the total number of cases in all six reached 15,415.
  • There are now 5,013 primary care units around the country, which disburse treatment and follow up with confirmed cases and their contacts in home isolation.
  • In addition to quarantine hospitals, there are now 340 hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 cases. They are equipped with 3,539 intensive care beds, 2,218 ventilators, 35,152 beds in in-patient wards, 125 CT scanners and 643 X-ray machines.
  • Work is underway to equip 36 more hospitals, bumping the total number of COVID-19 hospitals to 376.
  • Around the country, 32 of the health ministry’s own labs and 17 university hospital labs now have the capabilities to test potential COVID-19 cases. Eight more ministry labs will join this week to boost the overall testing capacity, increasing the total to 57 labs scattered across different governorates.

The statement also disclosed, for the first time, the contribution of university hospitals in the government’s handling of the pandemic. 

  • As of May 30, 5,651 COVID-19 patients received treatment at university hospitals and student housing units that had been designated for quarantine: 4,093 recovered, 1,509 active, and 49 deaths.
  • Of the total, university hospitals have treated 1,132 cases: 529 have been discharged, 490 are stable, 61 are in intensive care, 12 are on ventilators, and 49 died. There are 2,991 beds at university hospitals and student housing units dedicated to quarantine and treatment of COVID-19 cases, according to the higher education minister.
  • The total capacity of all 26 student housing complexes is 69,070 beds in 38,589 rooms, the minister says.

He further specified that the student housing facilities currently in use as quarantine hospitals are the Alexandria University student housing and the Abo Qir Youth City under the supervision of a medical team from Alexandria University, as well as the Mansoura, Tanta, Helwan, Assiut, Kafr al-Sheikh, Beni Soueif, Banha, South Valley and Monufiya university housing complexes — totaling 3,491 beds altogether.


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