COVID-19 hits the Egyptian parliament: Five deaths amid silence about infections

While the Egyptian Ministry of Health talks about a decrease in the emerging coronavirus infection rate, COVID-19 has hit the newly elected Egyptian parliament. In less than three months, the parliament lost five of its deputies to coronavirus amid the silence about the number of infected people.

The last victim was the head of the National Defence and Security Committee in the parliament, Major General Kamal Amer, who previously held the position of commander of the Third Field Army and Director of Military Intelligence and worked as governor for both Marsa Matrouh and Aswan. Last month, the parliament also lost Major General Saad al-Gammal, a parliament member and the honourary president of what is known as the “Egypt Support Coalition.” Parliament also lost Gamal Hajjaj, the winner of the parliament’s membership, for the Benha constituency in Qalyubia Governorate (north of Cairo). This came after the death of MP Fawzi Ismail Youssef, the winner of the Aja district in the Dakahlia Governorate (Nile Delta / North), and Major General Hassan Eid, the winner of the Future Watan Party in the Suez Governorate (northwest of the country).

Members of the House of Representatives have also been hit with coronavirus, the latest of which was the infection of the deputy and writer close to the regime, Farida Shobashi, who chaired the opening session of the parliament. It was also announced that Representative Solaf Hussein Darwish, deputy of the parliament’s Manpower Committee, was infected. In parallel, media reports spoke about infections among many members of the various committees, however, the numbers and the names were kept secret.

Earlier, the Speaker of Parliament, Hanafi Gebali, criticised several members’ failure to take precautionary measures to confront the coronavirus during a parliamentary session. Gebali attacked the parliamentarians who rallied around the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled al-Anani as he explained the government’s programme. “I find some MPs are not obligated to wear a mask, and this is unacceptable,” Gebali said in statements published in Al-Ahram newspaper. The speaker of parliament called for members to adhere to measures to confront corona and asked them to return wearing a mask to confront the “damn epidemic,” as he described.

In turn, the General Secretariat of the House of Representatives confirmed the need to adhere to wearing a mask before entering the parliament’s gates, which reconvenes public sessions on March 14. The general secretariat announced that wearing masks would be a condition for entry through the parliament’s external gates. She said in a message sent to the deputies, “Within the framework of preventive and precautionary measures to confront the virus, we would like to note that it will be prohibited to enter from the external gates of the parliament without wearing a mask.”

The Egyptian Ministry of Health has faced harsh criticism because of its performance in facing the coronavirus since the beginning of the crisis, amid doubts by observers of Egypt’s health situation regarding the official numbers announced by the Ministry of Health in its daily data compared to the real numbers. This comes in light of the recurrent crises in hospitals, including the lack of vacant places in intensive care rooms and the frequent reduction of oxygen stocks in several hospitals.

Earlier, Rana al-Hajjah, Director of Programmes at the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean at the World Health Organisation, called for a “review” of the numbers of infections and deaths with coronavirus in Egypt. She said that the data issued from Egypt regarding corona needs to be reviewed because it depends on the percentage of examinations that are carried out at the Ministry of Health. Hajjah indicated that the correct data must include the method and quantity of examinations that take place and whether it is from all laboratories or from only those affiliated with the Ministry of Health, especially since the ministry announced that not all patients are examined.

The World Health Organisation previously questioned the truth about the numbers announced by the Egyptian authorities, the Minister of Health, Hala Zayed, and government officials admitted they had doubts when they said in press statements that the numbers might be ten times more than the officially announced.

The BBC cited official statistics that Egypt’s death rate from the coronavirus increased by 60,000 during three months of last year (May, June, and July) compared to the average deaths in the same months during five years. The report attributed these deaths to the coronavirus, indicating that after they died, they were not included in Egypt’s official statistics.