Today I go back to the topic I had broached two weeks ago under the title “Coronavirus and the unethical”, this time reviewing coronavirus COVID-19 on the local Egyptian level. I feel concerned that, because the virus spread in Egypt is still under control and the number of cases limited in comparison to other countries hit by the pandemic, Egyptians appear to underestimate its seriousness and seem oblivious to its hazards. Will they turn the blessing into a curse through poor perception and lack of rigour in adopting the cautionary measures set by the government and local authorities? The government has proved itself up to the responsibility and has been managing the crisis with remarkable vigilance and control, contrary to many other situations when it had notoriously resorted to mere counteraction policies. But it looks as though Egyptians neither realise nor appreciate the government’s efforts. Instead of collaborating with the authorities, the Egyptian public appears to challenge them with a “catch me if you can” attitude. Egyptians have been persisting in their unruliness and chaos, forcing the State to monitor, inspect and chase. In some cases they even had no qualms resisting the cautionary measures and protesting against them, displaying their anger in a provocative manner that reminds one of the Arabic proverb: “Whoever is secure from retribution shall misbehave”. Because of the people’s unruly behaviour, the government was forced to inflict punishment and impose discipline on those who seemed unaware of the magnitude of the COVID-19 challenge Egypt currently faces.
During a recent press conference on COVID-19 updates in Egypt, a reporter asked WHO representative Jean Jabbour about the reason behind the low number of coronavirus cases in Egypt in comparison with the huge numbers in Europe, US and South East Asia. Mr Jabbour’s reply was, for me, rather alarming. He said that the situation in Egypt, the Middle East and Africa reflected the level of acquired immunity of the people of these countries. This immunity, he said, was high because it was acquired in response to low levels of hygiene and healthcare, and high rates of pollution. In countries with better healthcare and hygiene conditions, Mr Jabbour said, the acquired immunity is not that high. The declined hygienic conditions, he explained, boosted the ability of people to fight infection far higher than that of populations of well developed countries. However, Mr Jabbour warned, it was not right to rely on this fact and overlook strict cautionary measures, because if the virus overtook the acquired immunity, it would spread like wildfire, almost unstoppable.
As I glance at the current situation and the measures taken by the government, as well as the warnings of WHO representative, I find myself unable to accept some common behaviours by Egyptians. Among these: the reckless rush to engage in unnecessary gatherings without applying cautionary measures to protect oneself and others. Such behaviour especially stands out in markets, streets, roads, public transport and banking outlets. Equally appalling is the hysteric rush to stockpile on commodities in excess of actual needs; besides reflecting insecurity and selfishness, this behaviour creates artificial shortages and projects unnecessary panic. The increasing demand by consumers frequently leads mean-spirited vendors to manipulate the market through starving it, then selling the goods at exaggerated price.
Also unacceptable was the behaviour displayed by expatriate Egyptians who were flown home on their demand, after being caught in the flight suspension regulations imposed by Egypt and other countries. Once home, some of them absolutely refused to comply with the necessary preventive measures of quarantine they had been forewarned they would have to go through before they boarded the EgyptAir planes sent expressly to bring them home. They demonstrated chaotically against staying at the hotels that had been transformed into quarantine centres for them. Sadly, they claimed that the conditions of their quarantine and the services provided to them were substandard, claims that were proved false. Egyptian officials met this attitude and allegations with patience, which served to expose the truth about the false protest. Again the Arabic proverb rang true: “Whoever is secure from retribution shall misbehave”.
Another unacceptable behaviour was the unreasonable reckless rush by some Egyptians who thought that the suspension of schools and universities and businesses that drew large public gatherings was an invitation for outings, partying and gatherings in gardens, beaches and touristic resorts. This reflected a disgraceful failure to fathom the seriousness of the situation and the imperativeness of complying with the incessant calls to stay at home and steer away from collective activities and gatherings. More serious were the ploys adopted to circumvent the cautionary measures imposed by the government, through acts such as gathering inside coffee shops that had closed their front doors but opened their back doors to receive clients, all in order to evade the eyes of the police. Other individuals held parties on private beaches thinking they would be safe from the watchful eye of the authorities acting to restrict gatherings in an effort to abate the spread of COVID-19. Others insisted on breaking the curfew hours set by the government.
All such forms unruliness need to be firmly addressed in order to safeguard our society against those who threaten its health safety.
With the threat of COVID-19 still imminent, I beg you not to underestimate the warning and analysis of WHO representative in Egypt, because it really is scary.
23 April 2020