Egypt has announced 33 new cases of Covid-19 as the Arab world’s most populous nation works to contain both the virus and public concern.
Thirty-three additional infected passengers were found onboard a cruise ship that had travelled between the southern Egyptian cities of Aswan and Luxor. Twelve cases on the same ship were announced yesterday, bringing the number of infections onboard so far to 45.
Egypt’s Ministry of Health said that 171 people were onboard the ship, including 101 foreign nationals, amid conflicting reports about whether the boat, its crew and other passengers remain quarantined. Officials said the ship had previously drawn attention after a Taiwanese-American tourist showed symptoms of Covid-19 on returning home.
The announcement brings a total number of 48 infections in Egypt since mid-February, of which one person has since recovered. Egypt is now working to contain an outbreak of the virus, with an infection rate comparable to that of other Middle Eastern nations. Kuwait has now reported 61 total cases, and the United Arab Emirates has reported 45. Iraq, which has also previously registered a rapid spread of infections, has declared four deaths out of 46 cases.
Egyptian officials attempted to contain any possible panic about the coronavirus amid Saturday’s announcement. “Egypt is safe and the situation is under control,” declared prime minister Mostafa Madbouly.
But efforts to contain any potential concern about the spread of the virus come shortly after the same officials had stated it wasn’t present in Egypt at all. Madbouly declared ten days ago that there were no cases of the virus in Egypt and that “the Egyptian state does not hide anything and is completely transparent in this issue.” Earlier this week, he added that “the claims about a cover-up on the scale of infections are mere rumours”.
However, those infected with Covid-19 typically begin to show symptoms between two and 14 days after contracting it. Multiple tourists who visited Egypt in recent weeks began showing symptoms on returning home, raising questions about the spread of the virus, which can cause mild symptoms but is easily transmitted.
Two French nationals, one Canadian and a Taiwanese national showed symptoms of Covid-19 after departing Egypt in February. Egyptian officials did not clarify whether a Taiwanese national who tested positive for the virus on return to Taiwan one week ago is the same Taiwanese-American national named as the source of the outbreak on the Nile boat.
“One trip to Egypt was the source of 11 cases out of 20 people” in the French town of La Balme-de-Sillingy, according to Le Monde, and on Friday night, the city of Houston, Texas, announced five cases of the virus, all of whom had participated in a trip to Egypt and then returned to the US in late February.
Egypt’s minister of health, Hala Zayed, who recently travelled to China to discuss the outbreak, stated on Friday that 2,166 people in Egypt have tested negative for the virus since January. Egyptian officials have pushed for caution, in a country where tourism accounts for an estimated 11.9 percent of GDP.
Official efforts to contain concern about the spread of coronavirus in Egypt have also increased friction with other Middle Eastern nations. Egypt’s national carrier, Egyptair, suspended flights to Kuwait on Saturday “until further notice”, due to the spread of Covid-19 in the country, hours after Kuwait declared it was blocking all flights from seven nations, including Egypt, to “stem the spread of Covid-19 and protect the safety of public health”.
Qatar previously blocked entry to Egyptian citizens over the virus, while a Sudanese official from the country’s ministry of health voiced requests from residents in the north of the country to close their border with Egypt as a precaution.