Coronavirus

Long Lines, Mixed Message As Egypt's Vaccine Rollout Sputters

Only about 150,000 of the country's 100 million people have been vaccinated so far against COVID-19, and in some crowded health centers, people wait hours only to be turned away.

Inside Qattameya's medical center in Cairo on the first day of vaccination in Egypt in March 2021
Inside Qattameya's medical center in Cairo on the first day of vaccination in Egypt in March 2021

CAIRO — Vaccine centers across Egypt have witnessed long wait times, insufficient supply and bureaucratic procedures that have made it difficult for many to secure shots to boost their immunity against COVID-19.

At one Cairo hospital, a Mada Masr correspondent witnessed the long lines first-hand, and Doctors Syndicate council member Ibrahim al-Zayat said that the alarming overcrowding situation is worst in the more densely populated areas of Upper Egypt and Cairo.

Vaccine rollout began to wider populations, including the elderly, in early March, and more than 600,000 of Egypt's roughly 100 million people have registered to get COVID-19 vaccines. As of Sunday, 148,987 people, including medical staff, have been vaccinated.

Health Ministry sources have previously told Mada Masr that its officials identified 200,000 medical workers and 23 million citizens with chronic diseases as the first segment of people to receive the vaccine. But many people considered less vulnerable have gotten the vaccine faster than the designated at-risk groups, and the ministry is preparing plans to vaccinate tourism sector workers ahead of a hoped-for robust summer travel season.

The focus on the eligibility criteria was part of the problem at the Matareya Universal Health Insurance Clinic in Cairo, where about 200 people eligible for the vaccine due to their age or due to having chronic diseases waited four to six hours on Thursday to receive COVID-19 vaccines, a Mada Masr correspondent observed.

Tensions rose as those set to receive the vaccine complained to the center's employees about the long waiting and last-minute demands for proof of diagnosis. Some of those waiting outside the hospital told Mada Masr that they were sent home after being asked to bring medical records proving diagnosis with chronic diseases and to set another date for receiving the vaccine.

"Are we supposed to get vaccinated against coronavirus or to catch it?" one person waiting in line asked, after they submitted their IDs and waited outside the clinic for their name to be called.

At one point, Dr. Rania Saeed, the director of elder care at the clinic, apologized to the crowd and said that the clinic has been working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to administer vaccines. Saeed then tasked another employee with taking down the names of 265 people waiting to submit their medical histories in order to receive the vaccine, a process that took two and a half hours.

One of the citizens interviewed by Mada Masr, Ibrahim Abdel Hameed, 62, arrived at the Matareya clinic to find it overcrowded. When Abdel Hameed asked what to do after handing over his ID, the clinic employee told him to leave and come back at night or the next day or to wait with the crowd. When he asked what steps he needed to take before receiving the vaccine, the employee asked everyone to go outside and wait their turn.

For Zayat, allowing a large number of people, especially the elderly, to wait in the small medical centers creates a suitable environment for further spreading COVID-19 instead of preventing it.

After waiting for six hours, Abdel Hameed, who was number 73 on the list, was denied a shot. The doctor tore up Hameed's vaccine application and told him that his health insurance ID is not proof that he has chronic high blood pressure, as the vaccination system requires a medical report from a doctor. Saeed intervened, and told the doctor to accept the private doctor's prescription the man had brought with him as evidence.

Two women who followed Abdel Hameed, however, were denied shots because they had not brought reports proving that one woman has diabetes and the other has an autoimmune disease.

Health workers prepare an elderly woman to receive a dose of AstraZeneca — Photo: Mohamed Shokry/dpa via ZUMA Press

For Cabinet coronavirus committee member Hamdy Ibrahim, the crowding at clinics is evidence that there are shortcomings in the organization of the vaccination process in a number of centers, especially those designated for the elderly. But he also said that raising people's awareness, following precautionary measures and avoiding crowding inside vaccination centers, may be the solution to vaccinate the largest number of citizens in the least possible time, at least until the matter is better organized by Health Ministry officials.

In a statement issued Friday, the Health Ministry placed the blame for the crowding on citizens, saying that people had failed to show up to receive their shots on the dates specified for them.

But the Ministry also took steps on Sunday to alter its vaccination plan, announcing that it designated an additional 200 new clinics to administer the shot, doubled the number of medical teams working at vaccination centers nationwide, increased the clinic operating hours and capped the number of citizens who can be vaccinated at one clinic at 100 per day.

The ramp-up in administration capacities also comes after Egypt received 854,400 doses last week of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine as part of the global COVAX agreement. There are also reports that more Sinopharm vaccines could be on their way in the coming weeks.

Braving crowds has only been half the battle for at-risk groups. Many have also struggled to secure appointments at all.

In late March, many young people who are not classified as vulnerable to the coronavirus had begun to get the vaccine as early as one day after they had registered online, while those who had registered well in advance, including the elderly and people with chronic conditions, had yet to be scheduled for their first dose.

Attributing the issue to the fact that earlier applicants only had 40 vaccination centers to choose from while those who signed up later could choose from 138 centers, the Health Ministry told Mada Masr at the time that it planned to amend the registration system to enable those who registered earlier to change their choice of vaccination center.

Health Ministry Spokesperson Khaled Megahed said on television Friday that the Ministry can increase administration clinics to 5,000 if need be, providing assurances that 12.5 million citizens can be vaccinated within five weeks.

The provision of free vaccines has been a matter of concern for the government in recent months. Without the requisite funds to ensure widespread vaccination, the government has turned to public messaging that presents vaccination as optional. Alaa Ghannam, the director of the Right to Health program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, previously told Mada Masr that the approach is "an attempt to manufacture a loophole that would allow the vaccine not to be offered free of charge for everyone."

An independent medical source previously told Mada Masr that the Health Ministry has a parallel track to government-procured vaccines that would provide shots at a modest price through partnership agreements with the private sector.

"It is understandable that the government does not want to be subject to criticisms for not shouldering the entire burden of vaccination, which is what all other countries have done," the source said. "And generally speaking, vaccinations fall within the purview of the government."

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

A dove from Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida tough enough to lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam, Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

In September 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years.

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

Daisuke Kondo / Economic Observer

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."


— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Fumigation is used as a precautionary measure against the spread of dengue disease in New Delhi, India, where more than 1,000 cases have been reported — Photo: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! - info@worldcrunch.com

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