Daily COVID-19 roundup: June 23
 
 

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 Monday, June 22:

 

New cases Recovered New deaths
1,576 399 85
Current cases Total cases Total deaths
37,918 56,809 2,278

 

These COVID-19 items made headlines in Egypt on Monday:

Hajj canceled

  • Pilgrimages to Mecca became the latest mass gathering to be halted by the coronavirus pandemic on Monday, when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that  July 2020’s Hajj would be opened only to citizens and residents of the country. In standard years, millions of Muslims from all over the world would visit Mecca for five to six days of rituals
  • Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta and Endowments Ministry both came out to applaud Saudi Arabia’s decision, affirming its consistency with religious jurisprudence. “We support and back the Kingdom’s position and invaluable efforts for the stability and security of religious feelings,” said Dar al-Ifta, while the ministry said that “the decision showcases the Kingdom’s continuous attention to the safety and well being of [pilgrims]”

Profits in pharma manufacturing during the pandemic

  • Publicly-traded pharmaceutical companies are redirecting their resources to focus on producing drugs and medical products in high demand, including sterilizing alcohol, paracetamol and immunity-boosters such as vitamin C and zinc tablets. Coverage in the privately-owned Al-Mal reports that Alexandria Pharmaceutical Company witnessed a hike in profits, with the painkiller Panadol, which represents 40% of its production, sold out all over Egypt. Production of non-essential medications has been shelved for now, according to sources who spoke to Al-Mal.
  • On cue, the Cabinet has proposed amendments to the value-added tax law that will give the Health Ministry powers to exempt pharmaceutical and medical products. The changes would lower the threshold for VAT rebates for those in transit, and allow special economic zones the same privileges as free industrial zones. 

Passing the buck: Who should be held to account for crowding at high school exams?

  • After the thanaweya amma exam season and Al-Azhar high school exams got underway on Sunday, there were no answers on Monday to the question of who should have done better and how, and whether senior university students will also sit for their finals soon. 
  • A game of hot potato is still going on over who should take responsibility for widely shared scenes of crowding outside exam centers on Sunday. MP Anisa Hassouna left Egypt’s parents holding the bag on Monday, scolding them for accompanying their children, who she said should be treated like adults. 
  • Amina Khairy, a columnist for the privately-owned Masrawy, joined Hassouna in blaming the parents, claiming the scenes point to a “crack” in the concept of “social responsibility.” Khairy criticized the self-contradiction inherent in parents’ saying they were “worried about their kids going to exams during the pandemic,” since they had made the crowds greater by accompanying their children.
  • Yet Hind Mohamed, an Egyptian political science professor, thought the buck should stop with the government for insisting on going ahead with the exams during the pandemic. Mohamed thinks the government should have canceled or postponed exams to “save lives,” though she adds that remote testing or phases of examinations could have been a solution. “I cannot imagine how students feel going to exams knowing they could get infected and then infect their parents,” Mohamed writes.
  • Taking legal steps to hold the government to account, a lawyer has submitted a report asking the Administrative Judicial Prosecution to investigate “negligence” in applying social distancing and hygiene standards during the exams “despite the huge budget allocated for this.” The same lawyer has previously raised a suit asking for the exams to be canceled, which was overturned. 
  • As for reports of illness from Monday’s exams, five students taking exams in the Al-Azhar system were recorded to have a fever, while in Marsa Matrouh, a teacher in charge of handling and distributing exam papers and answer booklets tested positive of COVID-19, a source from the governorate’s Health Directorate told Cairo24. Colleagues who had been in contact with the teacher were tested and excused from exam duty regardless of test results.
  • We could see the whole thing play out again with university exams due soon. The Supreme Council of Universities will meet today to consider the “plausible” scenarios, which could include canceling the examinations and replacing them with digital exams, research projects, or a combination of both. Humanities and social sciences students would take projects, while STEM students would take the digital tests. Former President of Cairo University has been out advocating for adopting a mix of digital tests and research projects over the last few days, while a number of student unions reportedly called on their universities to postpone the exams.

 

What are the leaders of Egypt’s COVID-19 response saying?

  • The World Health Organization raised the alarm on Monday to warn countries relaxing social distancing measures that the coronavirus is not yet retreating. “The spread of the virus across the world is accelerating,” said the WHO director. 
  • Head of Egypt’s Scientific Committee to Combat Coronavirus Dr. Hossam Hosni gave a press round yesterday, highlighting his prediction that the rate of Egypt’s infections could begin to descend in mid-July.
  • In parallel, Hosni warned that if infections continue to rise at a similar or faster rate in the winter, Egypt could face a severe second wave of infection. “We have to get to zero infections before winter,” Hosni warned, though he skimped on the details of how to do so.
  • Hosni also told Egyptians to expect a “big surprise” in 10 days, when the Health Ministry is due to release some data on one of its clinical trials for coronavirus
  • Spox for the Egyptian Drug Authority Dr. Ali al-Ghamarawy said Monday that Egypt has “reserved an amount” AstraZeneca’s vaccine, a frontrunner in the competition for a vaccine that has been repeatedly touted by the president’s health advisor.
  • Al-Azhar weighed in on the pandemic, issuing fatwa warning that citizens who do not self-isolate after testing positive are “sinners and criminals.”

 

Coexisting with coronavirus

  • In updates on Monday of plans to draw back restrictions on movement, gatherings and events:
    • What does coexistence with coronavirus look like? Pictures in the press showed people on top of each other in post offices, schools and informal markets.
  • In updates on tourism, with flights due to restart in eight days:
    • Health Minister Hala Zayed is to present her plan for the resumption of tourism in July before the Cabinet today, after meeting yesterday with the tourism and civil aviation ministers, and the governors of Red Sea, South Sinai and Marsa Matrouh.
    • In the meantime, service providers at airports will be excused from rents and fees for six months, announced the Civil Aviation Ministry yesterday.
       
  • The Egyptian Premier League has not had a clean shot at getting back to the game:
    • On Monday, a statement from Zamalek FC players rejected the return of the football tournament. Yet sources from the club told Cairo24 that the reason for Zamalek’s opposition for the return of competition is that the club does not wish to resume games without its foreign players, who are currently stranded in their home countries.    
    • Details of the plan to reopen the fields are yet to be finalized on Wednesday, when the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) meets with club representatives. It has already said it might cancel relegation for this year’s competition, an incentive to make the return of the football competition attractive for smaller clubs.
    • As more clubs get PCR swabs for players, such as al Ittihad al-Sakandry FC and Smouha SC, the Youth and Sports Ministry has denied reports that public funds are financing the swabs, contradicting remarks made a few days ago by the EFA.
       
  • In news on the post-COVID-19 economy:
    • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has reportedly pledged to provide a US$100 million loan to CIB, which in turn will manage the funds to give out loans to small businesses and micro-projects in “distress due to the economic impact of the pandemic.”
    • As opposed to megaprojects, CEO of Catalyst Developments Mohamed Waheed is making the case for “small businesses” as a more “resilient” and “effective” way to reorganize the economy, citing their “innovative ideas” and unorthodox “investment and development decisions.”
    • According to the Director of the New and Renewable Energy Authority, Egypt has invested a total of $2 billion in renewable energy projects in the about-to-start financial year.

Who cares for the healthcare workers? 

  • In news of how coronavirus affected workers on the front lines of the response to the pandemic on Monday:
    • 176 medical and non-medical workers at Aswan Teaching Hospital have contracted COVID-19 since May, said the hospital in a statement yesterday. 282 people were tested.  The university was shut down several times in May and its doctors were moved from their posts at the hospital to other assignments as they continued to agitate for PCR tests. The Health Ministry had to send back-up medical teams to keep the hospital running. According to the statement, 102 of the infected workers have recovered, 30 people are in home quarantine, and 44 are receiving care at one of the hospital’s wards.
    • Khamis Amer, a public relations employee at Damanhour Teaching Hospital and a nurse at Banha Teaching Hospital named Khaled Hajjaj died on Monday due to COVID-19. 
    • A pharmacist named Mohey Mostafa died yesterday of COVID-19, pushing the toll among pharmacists up to 25 said the Pharmacists Syndicate. 
    • Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hafez died from COVID-19, according to the Doctors Syndicate

Working with COVID-19

  • And finally, in news of how coronavirus affected workers on Monday:
    • Around six or seven workers are testing positive for COVID-19 per day at factories in the 10th of Ramadan City industrial hub, reports the privately-owned Al-Mal newspaper, citing the director of the 10th of Ramadan Investors Association. The association prepared and set up a quarantine hospital inside the city with a capacity of 50 beds a few weeks ago.
    • Two journalists at the National Press Authority tested positive and were transferred to a hospital to receive medical care.
    • The Journalists Syndicate said it is distributing 12,000 free masks for free for its members.

 

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