Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed has ignited a fresh wave of criticism after she announced that al-Nujaila Central Hospital, west of Marsa Matruh, will receive Egyptian evacuees returning from China. Residents of the city are horrified as the hospital is in a residential area and next to a commercial market. Doctors have accused the ministry of deceiving them by contracting them to work there without telling them the real nature of the work. The minister has visited al-Nujaila Central Hospital twice within 48 hours in two unannounced secret visits during which she moved between the hospital and the neighbouring hotel. In the aftermath the minister unexpectedly announced, without consulting the representatives of the governorate in the parliament or even the official health department, that the hospital would be completely evacuated. The doctors, their union, the residents of al-Nujila, and parliament members are angry because they feel the minister did not deal with the situation with transparency and clarity.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian cabinet said last Thursday that Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly contacted the Egyptian ambassador to China, who spoke to Chinese authorities, who approved for them to arrange the return of Egyptians from Wuhan. Egyptian media and social media reported that locals objected to turning their central hospital, the only one in the area some 70 kilometres from the city of Matrouh, into a centre for Egyptians returning from China. Citizens were angry they weren’t informed about the hospital and were concerned about contracting coronavirus. They demanded authorities reverse their decision.

Secretary-General of the doctors’ syndicate, Ihab al-Taher, confirmed that some doctors were deceived by the ministry and were not informed of the nature of the task assigned to them. Al-Taher added: “Some doctors went there without knowing why they were sent there.” He explained that after the news spread, the ministry retreated and let the doctors choose to go back or stay. Some of them chose to stay and others decided to return, and the problem was solved. He said that everyone understands there is a health problem that requires a concerted effort, but there should be transparency in dealing with it and the correct steps should be taken, such as informing doctors about the exact nature of tasks assigned to them and training them to deal with the virus. Zayed has faced widespread criticism since taking office over her handling of a number of crises.