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Coronavirus: Egypt’s health minister under fire for holding packed press conference

Images of the conference, in which people were in close proximity to each other, were criticised on social media
There were over 50 people at the joint press conference (Screengrab/Twitter)

Egypt’s Minister of Health, Hala Zayed, has come under fire after holding a crowded press conference on Wednesday, as she urged social distancing to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country of 100 million.

Images of the conference, in which people were in close proximity to each other, were shared and criticised widely on social media.

The press conference, which was held with the Minister of Information, Osama Heikal, was focused on the latest developments on the spread of Covid-19.

The hashtag #TheMinisterOfHealthMustResign (#وزيرة_الصحة_لازم_تتحاسب) has been circulated online, with hundreds condemning the decision to hold the conference. 

Online people shared photos of the conference, with many saying it was ironic to have such a large gathering to discuss the spread of the virus. 

Many have said that the conference violates and contradicts the regulations shared by her and the Egyptian government. 

Translation: In light of the recommendations from the Ministry of Health to maintain a one metre distance between each person to avoid getting infected, here’s the Ministry of Health gathered with over 50 people in one room! This is ignorance and backwardness from the state, and yet they blame citizens on the lack of awareness and following regulations. 

Around the world, many have chosen to hold press conferences digitally to prevent the spread of the virus, which has claimed thousands of lives worldwide. 

Translation: I’m sure that everyone in this photo has been tested before they went in but this is not a conference to raise awareness, this is a joke, and it just shows that the Minister of Health is a failure. 

Many have compared the conference to others taking place globally online, highlighting the irresponsibility of it taking place.

Translation: The G20 summit, White House conferences and British and Canadian government conferences, daily press briefings and World Health Organisation meetings are all being held online over phone and video. This is how the Egyptian ministries of health and information are dealing with coronavirus in Egypt.

Some have jokingly called it a "conference on how to spread the virus".

Translation: I swear to God I have never seen something so stupid, this is the epitome of ignorance. 

Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi himself was pictured on Saturday sitting in close proximity to Mohamed Awad Tag Eldin, his adviser on health and prevention affairs, in an otherwise empty room at the presidential palace.

Three senior members of the Armed Forces have contracted coronavirus, and two of them died earlier this week as top army generals continued to hold meetings, including with president Sisi. 

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Egypt has so far announced 21 deaths and 456 cases of the virus, which has now spread across most 27 governorates. 

But infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto believe the number of infections in Egypt is likely to be much higher than the official figures. 

Egyptian authorities have revoked the licence of a correspondent for the Guardian newspaper who cited the research by the University of Toronto, accusing her of "misinformation".

Sisi has called for a 100bn Egyptian pound ($6.38 billion) fund to finance a "comprehensive" state plan for tackling the outbreak. 

The country has imposed a night-time curfew for two weeks starting Wednesday, and the minister of information said Tuesday that Egypt would extend the suspension of flights for two weeks from 1 April, except for flights allowing tourists to return to their countries.