Daily COVID-19 roundup: July 21

Could Egypt produce a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine?

One of five coronavirus vaccines manufactured by China and currently under trial is set to be mass produced in Egypt if it proves effective, according to coverage in Monday’s press after a meeting between the Health Ministry and the Chinese ambassador.

State-owned pharmaceutical company VACSERA, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Health Ministry, is set to lead the manufacturing efforts, while the government hopes that China will make Egypt a manufacturing center for the African market, said Khaled Mugahed, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry.  

Egypt could start manufacturing the vaccine as soon as three months from now, adding that the vaccine has passed two stages of trials and is currently in the final phase, Mugahed added.

According to the New York Times, various Chinese companies are currently working on six different potential vaccines for COVID-19, while a seventh vaccine is being produced by a consortium of Chinese, German and US companies. A vaccine using inactivated virus technology produced by Sinovac Biotech has advanced to third phase trials and is currently being tested widely in Brazil. Sinopharm, meanwhile, has launched third phase trials for another inactivated virus technology drug in the UAE. Other potential vaccines include protein-based, viral vector, and mRNA-based models, which are at various stages of trial.

The Egyptian press has not specified which vaccine would be manufactured in Egypt. 

Another leading candidate in the global competition for a vaccine is AstraZeneca’s which is currently also in the third phase of clinical trials. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has already garnered the commitment of several manufacturing companies around the world, with a major Indian manufacturer signed up to make as much as 1 billion doses by 2021. 


Reports: Over 600 Sudanese citizens stuck in Luxor due to restrictions at Sudan-Egypt border

Over 600 Sudanese citizens have struggled to return home as crossings at the Argeen-Khartoum overland border remain restricted amid measures to control the spread of coronavirus, according to reports that came out on Sunday in the Egyptian press.

According to Sunday coverage from the privately owned Al-Dostor newspaper, local residents of the village of Rezaygat to the south west of Luxor have been hosting the Sudanese as they wait for news from Sudan. Al-Dostor also reported that Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb of Al-Azhar has intervened to request that the Sudanese authorities allow citizens to return home.

Trips via the Arqeen border crossing were due to start on July 1, the Sudanese embassy has announced, though it said tickets were priced at a costly LE1,000.

United Nations Sources have also told the German news agency Deutsche Welle that many Sudanese citizens living in Egypt have lost work during the pandemic, while there are thousands of citizens of other nationalities, particularly from Nigeria and the Philippines, who are likewise struggling with the harsh economic conditions. 


Hospital capacity and patient care 

Egypt officially recorded 627 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, continuing a downward trend in the number of daily infections. There are still 55,126 active cases of COVID-19, according to the Health Ministry’s official count. 

Alongside the drop in the recorded number of daily infections, a few more former specialized COVID-19 isolation hospitals began their gradual return to normal operations, according to today’s press. Youm7 reported that three hospitals in Monufiya, one in Minya, and another in Luxor are being sterilized after the last few hospitalized patients were released. After the final three COVID-19 patients were discharged from the Raghey Teaching Hospital in Assiut — which was previously designated for isolating cases cropping up among students and staff at Assiut University — the hospital could soon revert back to its standard operations as a specialist digestive and liver diseases facility, said the Assiut University Dean Dr. Tarek al-Gammal. On Sunday, 14 hospitals previously dedicated to coronavirus cases had returned to normal operations, Cairo24 reported.

In the meantime, the renovated Assiut Fever Hospital was inaugurated by Assiut’s Governor Essam Saad yesterday, after LE32 million was channeled into refurbishing the facility.


Coexisting with COVID-19

The new school year is set to start on October 17 with a hybrid teaching system combining online and classroom teaching for the majority of grades, announced Education Minister Tarek Shawky on Sunday: 

  • Secondary and preparatory-level students will go to school twice per week
  • Grades four, five and six in primary school will attend for three to four days 
  • Kindergarten students and children in the first three grades of primary school will attend all weekdays because the “educational process” with these ages requires “direct contact” between teachers and students, said Shawky.


As mask-wearing remains obligatory in public spaces, the Supply Ministry announced it is adding cheaper cloth masks to the subsidy card system. According to the ministry, the new masks will cost owners of subsidy cards LE6 of their subsidy credit, which is LE2.5 cheaper than the cloth masks currently available at Supply Ministry outlets. 

After a plea from the Chambers of Tourism to help tourist companies cut costs, entrance fees for natural reserves in Red Sea and South Sinai will be reduced by 50 percent, the Environment Ministry announced in a statement after coordination with the Tourism Ministry.

Two major coronavirus-related pieces of economic legislation were finally approved in Parliament yesterday during a busy session ahead of a 28-day recess for Egypt’s lawmakers.

The first law is set to take money from citizens’ pockets to fund the state’s response to coronavirus, while the other provides relief for companies who have postponed debt repayments to the state. 

According to the privately owned Al-Mal, the amendments to Law 79/2016 on tax disputes and non-criminal financial violations aims to incentivize companies who are late on their repayments to pay the debts they originally owed to the government in exchange for exemption from penalties, interest, and late fees. Types of debt covered by the law include delayed customs fees, taxes, and loans. 

 The central bank announced a six-month moratorium on loan repayments, as well as on interest and late fees as a measure to help borrowers during the pandemic.

As for what amounts to a pandemic tax, Parliament finally passed a one-year 1 percent cut to both private and public sector workers’ salaries and a 0.5 percent cut of pensions. The cuts are dubbed a “solidarity contribution” to combat the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 


Who cares for healthcare workers?

Parliament passed on Monday a package of amendments to the law concerning medical professionals that increases the amount of money available to medical professionals as an infection risk allowance.

The amendments expanded the types of medical professionals who stand to benefit from the law, bringing staff at teaching hospitals of both the Higher Education Ministry and Al-Azhar Universities under its umbrella. Medical engineers employed in hospitals and healthcare institutions are not included, however.

Health Minister Hala Zayed asked MPs to pass the law swiftly despite demands by some MPs requesting for medical engineers to be included.

Promising MPs that their demand would be looked into in the future, Parliament voted to pass the amendments which await the president’s ratification before being made law.  

Although the amendments see through an increase to the allowance — previously a dismal LE23 for doctors — which medical professionals have long sought, the Doctors Syndicate has pointed out that overall salaries remain low for the most part. The syndicate has previously pointed to substandard working conditions and low pay as the primary reason for the shortage of human resources in the government healthcare system.

Also on Monday, Dr. Adel Gerges, who worked in a chest unit in Kafr al-Dawar, died of COVID-19 complications.


Working with COVID-19 

  • Football teams preparing for the league to restart in August were conducting their fifth round of PCR testing on Monday (although most people don’t undergo PCR tests any more) to ensure their players are COVID-free before the games begin. Alexandria’s Al-Ittihad football club announced it is conducting tests this week, while Cairo24 reports that more teams are to follow.

Planning Minister Hala al-Saeed presented a strategy Monday for the labor market and possible interventions to prop it up once the pandemic subsides. Speaking to lawmakers on Parliament’s Economic Committee, Saeed said that distance learning could help the government enhance its vocational education and training program by expanding outreach. More abstract focuses were “entrepreneurship” and “medium and micro businesses.” Distance medical services, “smart environmental and green businesses,” and food security projects should also be priorities, Saeed said.


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