Doubts rise about the official number of COVID-19 cases in Egypt

In mid-March, the Egyptian State Information Service issued a decision to close the British newspaper The Guardian’s office and withdraw its accreditation because, according to the service, it had not complied with professional standards. The service also gave the New York Times reporter in Cairo a final warning to consult the official resources for the news about Egypt, and to adhere to professional standards. This warning came after the paper published a Canadian study stating that the number of people infected with COVID-19 might be up to 19,000 people. In contrast, at that time, the official number of cases in Egypt was not even 200.

About three months later, as the official number of cases rose to 55,000 last week, the Egyptian Centre of Public Opinion Research, Baseera (In English: Insight) produced a study on the number of people aged 18 years or more, infected with coronavirus in Egypt. The centre said that there were 616,000 cases, a figure that far exceeded the official one.

The Canadian study was carried out by specialists in infectious diseases from Toronto University. They based their study on passenger traffic and the rate of infected people leaving Egypt. The study stated that 97 people of the foreigners who visited Egypt since mid-February until the study was completed had experienced symptoms before the physical examination and laboratory investigations confirmed their infection with the virus.

The Ministry of Health denied that statement and said that it has nothing to hide, that the new cases are being explicitly reported with all transparency in coordination with the WHO, and that the ministry’s numbers are correct.

On the other hand, Baseera’s study did not have the same impact, nor was it met with the same denial despite its contradiction to all the Ministry of Health’s statements, as well as those of the WHO. Accordingly, the total number of people of all ages infected with the virus has exceeded one million.

The survey performed by Baseera Centre showed that the rate of those confirmed to be infected in the age group of 18 years or more was 10.1 per thousand, which is equivalent to more than 616,000 Egyptians for that age group. Meanwhile, of this enormous figure, the percentage of those hospitalised was only 12 per cent of the cases, i.e., about 74,000 people. At the same time, 66 per cent resorted to home quarantine, 39 per cent are following up with a doctor, and 61 per cent mentioned that they are receiving treatment.

The centre pointed out that one of the reasons for the low percentage of hospitalisation was because the symptoms were minor. It further explained that 43 per cent of the cases had only one symptom, 18 per cent had two symptoms, and the rest had shown three or more symptoms. As for the details of the symptoms, 67 per cent experienced fever, 37 per cent had a severe cough, 39 per cent suffered from vomiting and diarrhea, 31 per cent complained of a sore throat, 13 per cent lost their sense of smell or taste, and 13 per cent experienced abdominal pain.

The centre indicated that, according to the study’s respondents, only 15 per cent were diagnosed using PCR, 29 per cent were diagnosed via a blood test, 38 per cent were X-rayed, 23 per cent were diagnosed after going to a doctor, and 16 per cent said that they self-diagnosed themselves according to the reported symptoms.

The rate of infection in rural areas was roughly half that of the urban areas, as the rate of distribution in the cities was 14 per 1,000 of the population, compared to eight per 1,000 of the population in the countryside. The study put this discrepancy down to a disparity in the rate of infection, a varying degree of awareness of being infected, or the difference in the level of education as the rate of infection increases from eight per 1,000 among those with less than average education to 16 per 1,000 among those with a university education.

The study remarked that the percentage of those who reported that one of their families was also infected was 21 per cent; 56 per cent answered that the rest of their families were not infected, and 23 per cent said that they did not know.