Will Egyptians get coronavirus app?

Egyptian parliamentarians put forward a proposal to create an app to track confirmed and suspected cases of the coronavirus.

al-monitor A man wearing a mask and latex gloves looks at his phone, Cairo, Egypt, March 13, 2020.  Photo by AHMED HASAN/AFP via Getty Images.

Apr 8, 2020

CAIRO — Ahmed Refaat, member of the parliamentary Telecommunications Committee, submitted April 1 to parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal a proposal, to the attention of the communications and information technology minister, and health and population minister, to create an app tracking the location of confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases. 

Refaat said that the app would provide daily updates on the latest number of cases, and full names and locations of those infected in the governorates and villages, so as to allow citizens to be cautious and avoid being in close contact with those infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The app would allow people who have been tested at a health care center to find out the result of the test without having to go back to the center.

Speaking to Al-Monitor by phone, Refaat said that if someone suspects they or others have the coronavirus, they are required to immediately report that to the competent authorities in order to avoid an outbreak and allow the treatment of patients.

He noted that the app proposal is a means to stop the coronavirus from spreading, and he explained that catching the virus is not looked upon in a negative way and that identifying patients is not wrong because everyone is at risk of contracting the virus.

In Egypt, social rejection is a reason people sometimes try to conceal their health status.

On April 7, the Ministry of Health confirmed 1,450 coronavirus cases, including 276 people who were discharged from isolation in hospitals and recovered, and 94 deaths.

Ahmed al-Baali, member of the parliamentary Telecommunications Committee, said that parliament is in favor of any proposal that could help stop the virus from spreading as long as it is can be applied on the ground. He explained that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is responsible for approving the proposal. “If applicable, I hope that the app contributes to curbing the spread of the illness and raising awareness among the citizens on a large scale,” he said.

Commenting on the proposal, Ayman Abul Ela, a member of the parliamentary Health Committee, told Al-Monitor over the phone that the proposal does not comply with global health protocols, because disclosing a patient's name is a violation of privacy. He added that it is part of the state’s role to isolate those who have been in close contact with infected people and areas where the virus runs rampant.

Apple recently launched a COVID-19 app accessible to everyone in order to help users take the right steps to protect their health in light of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The Apple app asks a number of questions about symptoms and makes recommendations including on social distancing, self-quarantine, monitoring symptoms and testing for COVID-19, and when to resort to a health care provider.

Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed decided April 1 to add the coronavirus to the first part of the infectious diseases table that is annexed to the law to prevent infectious diseases. The decision stipulates “applying the monitoring provisions, preventive measures and penal sanctions under Law No. 137 of 1958,” which was issued under the rule of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, relating to the precautions to prevent infectious diseases. The first part of the table includes multiple epidemics such as cholera, the plague, smallpox, anthrax, relapsing fever and yellow fever.

In his comments to Al-Monitor, Refaat said the app would help implement Zayed’s decision and support the Health Ministry in its fight to prevent infectious diseases from spreading. 

Article 10 of Law No. 137 of 1958 authorizes the health minister to issue the necessary quarantine or monitoring decisions, including for individuals coming from abroad. The minister is also entitled to issue decisions on the health requirements for the entry of goods from abroad in order to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

Article 12 of the law stipulates that anyone infected or suspected of being infected with an infectious disease shall be reported to a competent health practitioner within 24 hours, or to the administrative authority in areas where the person resides if there is no health practitioner present.

The law requires specified individuals to report suspected or confirmed cases, including any physician who has witnessed a case, the head of a patient’s household, or any person who provides for him or accommodates or serves him, his manager at work, the person in charge of the transportation means where symptoms were identified or suspected, or the mayor or representative of the administrative party. The law also stipulates that when reporting a case, the name, family name, date of birth, place of residence and job title of the person shall be stated in order to allow the relevant health authorities to reach him.

The judicial police officers shall search homes and places for suspected infected cases, and issue orders to place the suspected individuals and those who were in close contact with them in quarantine, to get vaccinated (if possible), and to disinfect the accommodations, furniture, clothes, transportation means and so on, as per the law. They may also destroy what cannot be disinfected or resort to the police, under the law.

The law stresses the need to place in quarantine those suspected or confirmed to be infected with one of the diseases set out in the first part of the table annexed to the law. The suspected or confirmed cases shall be subjected to quarantine measures in a place of quarantine designated by the competent health authority. In case the patient’s condition prevents him from being transferred to the place of quarantine, the competent health authority may allow him to self-quarantine at home, before moving him to the place of quarantine it specified, once his condition allows that.

The law sets forth that the health authorities may continue to monitor those who were in close contact with the patient for a period of time they determine.

Rashwan Shaaban, member of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, told Al-Monitor that the law on infectious diseases has been in effect since 1958. He said that adding COVID-19 to the first part of the table annexed to the law “does not grant material advantages to either those infected by the virus or the medical teams providing them with health care. Rather, it is a legal and administrative regulatory health matter.”

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