- The deaths were reported in around ten Egyptian prisons.
- Coronavirus infections are increasing in the country, and threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
- The government has become even more attentive to news leaks and NGO reports as the pandemic tests its capabilities and slows down its economy.
At least fourteen prisoners died from complications related to an infection by COVID-19 in a number of detention centers in Egypt, where the monitoring of the spread of coronavirus is very poor. The information is courtesy of the US NGO, Human Rights Watch, via its latest report, published on Monday.
The deaths were reported in around ten Egyptian prisons. In gathering and compiling the data, the organization has relied on witness reports, the letters that emerged from the prisons, and reports of local groups and associations for the defense of human rights.
As pointed out by the NGO, the reliability of official data is often difficult to ascertain because the information on the health situation in Egyptian prisons are strictly controlled by the authorities.
“Even though scores of prisoners and detainees, at a minimum, have shown mild to severe COVID-19 symptoms, prisons had insufficient medical care and virtually no access to testing for the virus or symptom screening,” the report said.
HRW noted that despite the fact that Egypt had released some 13,000 prisoners since February, this was “insufficient to ease overcrowding in congested prisons and jails.”
HRW has hence called upon the authorities to ensure “adequate medical care,” and to speed up the release of a substantial number of prisoners. “Prison authorities appear to have done no contact tracing measures and have done little to isolate prisoners who show symptoms,” the report added.
HRW also said that guards from at least three prisons, according to the testimonies of the people interviewed, refused to allow detainees to obtain or wear protective masks. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior also has banned visits from relatives of prisoners since the beginning of March.
Meanwhile, coronavirus infections are increasing in the country, and threatening to overwhelm hospitals. On Monday, the Ministry of Health in Cairo recorded that the country has 87,775 infections, and 4,303 deaths, the highest death toll in North Africa.
According to analysts, the government has become even more attentive to news leaks and NGO reports as the pandemic tests its capabilities and slows down its economy. Although President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi avoided total blockade, and opted for a night curfew, with borders closed and flights suspended, tourism revenue in Egypt has practically disappeared, among other sources of income.
In June, the country obtained a $ 5.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, in addition to a previous deal worth around $2.8 billion. Two weeks ago, fearing further economic spillovers, the government reopened most of the activities and welcomed hundreds of international tourists, mainly hosted in its resorts.
However, the daily deaths continue to exceed 80 people. Restaurants and cafes are reopening with some restrictions and masks have been made mandatory in public places.
“Because of Egypt’s constant attention to its image as a place open for tourism, open for business, open for investment, authorities appear particularly sensitive to divergent perspectives during the pandemic,” said Amy Hawthorne, an Egypt expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
“They want to project an image that everything is fine, they‘re in control,” she added.