SOHAG: Countries all over the world struggling to cope with the surge of the new coronavirus are trying to ensure that they are not hit by an Indian-style disaster. They face many of the same risks, including large populations, who have evaded restrictions and shaken fragile health systems under pressure.
In a province along the Nile River in southern Egypt, hospitals are flooded with COVID-19 patients, which is the main hotspot of the third peak swelling in the country. Doctors in Sohag province warned that even if the government rushed to purchase new supplies, the health system there could collapse.
“My estimate is that there is no family in Sohag that does not have a corona case,” said Dr. Mahmoud Fahmy Mansour, head of the province’s doctors’ union. “We lost five physicians in one week.”
He said a scenario like India was a possibility, but “God willing, it is a very far possibility.”
Long reluctant to impose new lockdowns, Egypt’s government announced its strictest restrictions in months on Wednesday. It ordered cafés, restaurants, stores and malls to close at 9 p.m. and banned large gatherings for two weeks, as well as shutting down beaches and parks during the upcoming Eid el-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Egypt isn’t alone in seeing mounting new infections. Worldwide, more cases have been reported in the past two weeks than in the entire first six months of the pandemic, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom said.
India and Brazil accounted for a large part of that, “but there are many other countries all over the world that face a very fragile situation,” he said. “What is happening in India and Brazil could happen elsewhere unless we all take these public health precautions.”
The Prime Minister of India has boasted of victory over the pandemic and has been hit by a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 infections after experiencing multiple large-scale crowding events. In March and April, the number of new cases and deaths soared nearly 30 times. The health system is overwhelmed, and patients urgently need oxygen and other supplies.
Rich countries are looking for open space as they provide immunization services for more populations. But countries with slow or few vaccinations face bleak prospects. They must work hard to deal with whether they should stop a new round of economic surge and risk damaging their economy-all of which may trigger an Indian-style tragedy.
In Turkey, new cases have surged nearly six-fold since the beginning of March, reaching a peak of more than 60,000 per day. The government imposed a three-week national lockdown on April 29, but exempted many departments, allowing millions of people to continue working.
The number has fallen, but medical experts have called for a 28-day complete shutdown of all non-essential services, and out of 80 million, only about 10 million have received the full vaccination.
Vedat Bulut, secretary-general of the independent Turkish Medical Association, said: “These restrictions are not what we are asking for.”
According to official data, in Egypt, the average daily number of new cases has doubled since the beginning of February, reaching more than 1,000 cases per day, and it continues to rise, compared with 1,400 to 1,600 cases per day in the summer and December last year.
It is difficult to judge the scope of this pandemic in a country of 100 million people, most of whom live in densely populated cities along the Nile River. Official figures report 234,015 cases, of which 13,714 deaths, like other countries in the world, are considered to be a serious shortage.
In Sohag Province, medical staff grow up desperately. A doctor who serves as the chairman of a large hospital there said that the actual number may be ten times the number of 400-450 new cases per week by the Ministry of Health.
He said: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is like an ostrich, with its head buried in the sand.” He declined to be named because he feared retaliation.
Sohag MP Mustafa Salem said he has received calls from dozens of people eager to find ventilators or intensive care beds.
When Ismail Abdallah fell ill last month, his family took him to the clinic. Without examination, he was told that he was pneumonia.
Two days later, the 50-year-old farmer and his 7-year-old father had trouble breathing. At the hospital, he was confirmed to have COVID-19, and his family scrambled to find a bed in the installed intensive care unit.
“There are no beds in the free ward,” said relative Amr Mahrous. “We worked hard to find a bed in a paid ward.”
After two weeks of isolation in the hospital, Abdullah died last week.
The Ministry of Health has strengthened facilities in the province, dispatched oxygen generators and ventilators, and increased the number of intensive care units. It deployed more doctors and doubled the medical team to follow up those who were isolated at home. Two vaccination centers have been established, more vaccination centers have been planned, and 100 groups have been mobilized to raise awareness.
The Ministry of Health lists Sohag as one of the five hotspots in the country, including Cairo (a metropolis with approximately 20 million people).
Health officials attribute this new peak to widespread neglect of preventive measures. Throughout Egypt, it is rare to wear masks and socialize. Despite government bans, some cafes are still sharing hookahs for customers. Weddings and funerals are still being held, and people flood into the market.
In Islamic Cairo, the historical center of the capital, during the holy month of Ramadan, family members participate in group prayers. Thousands of people gather in the narrow streets of the market at night, shopping or sitting in cafes. Masks are rarely worn.
Hajah Fatima, 57, and his family from Beni Sueif, a southern province, had a “meal” in a café next to the respected Hussein Shrine. This meal quickly ended the day’s life.
She said: “This is a custom.” “Corona? We will not happen to anything except God’s will.”
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said on Wednesday that more than 1 million people have been vaccinated so far, accounting for 1% of the Egyptian population.
In the crowded Palestinian settlements of the Gaza Strip, where there are 2 million people, the number of cases has increased rapidly. In March and April, the daily infection rate exceeded 1,000, which was previously recorded weekly in Gaza. The daily death toll has doubled, reaching the highest level of 20 people. The virus has killed more than 900 Gazans and sickened more than 102,000 people, including more than half this year.
The international aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières warned this week: “The hospital is working hard to cope.”
The Hamas rulers in the territory closed mosques and restaurants and imposed a curfew at the beginning of Ramadan to slow the outbreak. But its decision to lift these restrictions during the last 10 days of the holy month shocked health officials.
“We are concerned by the large-scale easing of the measures,” said Rami Abadllah, head of epidemiology at the Health Ministry.
Amid concerns over India, Kenya, which is coming down from a recent peak, halted flights with the country for two weeks, while Nigeria suspended flights with India, Brazil and Turkey, fearing new virus strains could come in as it tries to bring down cases, particularly in Lagos, home to some 20 million people.
In South Africa, with by far the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Africa, officials warn of a new surge as the Southern Hemisphere’s winter approaches.
Pakistan is in the midst of a third wave, with single-day fatalities hitting their highest of the entire pandemic on April 28, with 201 deaths.
Health officials added hundreds more hospital beds. Oxygen production had already been nearly doubled to 800 tons a day compared to last year. Still, at the surge’s peak in recent weeks, it was using 90% of that production.
New cases have eased slightly this week from a running average of around 6,000 a day.
“Thank God, we have so far managed to cope with this huge increase because of proactively building capacity of the entire system,” Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said.
But he warned the country of more than 200 million could face an India-level disaster unless people adhere to precautions that have been widely ignored. The government has rejected calls for a lockdown but warns that could change. “Be careful. For yourself, and your loved ones,” he said in a tweet.