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Egypt: Man who filmed chaos in Covid-hit hospital questioned by police

Footage from the al-Husseiniya hospital shows patients struggling to breathe and medical staff collapsed on the floor, as oxygen allegedly runs out
The image of this nurse collapsed on the floor has raised concern over the situation in Egypt, which is struggling to cope with a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic (Screengrab)

A man who filmed scenes of chaos at a hospital treating Covid-19 patients was summoned by Egyptian police for questioning on Monday, local sources told Middle East Eye, following outrage online caused by the footage.

On Sunday, Ahmed Mamdouh's footage began circulating, showing desperate medics attempting to save patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) at the al-Husseiniya hospital in the Sharqia governorate, after oxygen supplies had allegedly run out.

Mamdouh can be heard saying “everyone in the ICU has died… there’s no oxygen”, as medical staff struggled to help distressed patients. 

Hunched in a corner, the fear in her eyes visible through a visor and mask, the image of a nurse collapsed on the floor has become a topic of outrage and sympathy in Egypt.

Meanwhile, accusations that the hospital, and others, had been deprived of enough oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients has become a nationwide scandal.

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Mamdouh was summoned by the Sharqia security directorate for questioning early on Monday morning, sources said. He is not thought to have been arrested.

Egypt’s Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Sunday that there were “sufficient medical oxygen supplies at all hospitals receiving coronavirus patients”.

The governor of Sharqia, Mamdouh Ghorab, admitted to the deaths of four patients - two women in their 60s and two men aged 76 and 44 - but said that they had passed away “naturally” due to chronic illnesses and not as a result of an oxygen shortage. 

Local MP Sayed Rahmo refuted Ghorab’s claims, saying: “The patients died as a result of negligence at the al-Husseiniya hospital and the mismanagement of the oxygen shortage crisis.”

“According to my sources, the intensive care doctor informed the hospital director about the shortage of oxygen supply at least an hour [before the catastrophe],” Rahmo said, claiming the warning was not heeded in time.

The prosecutor’s office in al-Husseiniya confirmed that the director of the hospital was being questioned over the deaths, according to an official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

'I will expose you everywhere'

The incident at the hospital came hours after a similar incident at the Zefta general hospital in the Gharbiya governorate on Saturday, where grim scenes were recorded by a distressed woman. 

In that footage, a woman runs up and down the aisles, filming rooms showing patients struggling on their beds and members of the medical team collapsed on the floor. “I will expose you everywhere … you filthy government!” the woman shouts.

Abdel Nasser Hemida, the health ministry's undersecretary in Gharbiya, also denied there were depleted oxygen supplies. 

For many, the image of the nurse at the al-Husseiniya hospital is symbolic of Egypt's failure to contain the coronavirus and support the country's struggling healthcare workers.

"No one should experience that!" one social media user tweeted.

"The situation in Egypt is getting worse. Help us," another said

Many tweeted support for the nurse, urging her not to give up, while others tweeted their fears for their safety living in Egypt.

The number of infections in Egypt rose dramatically in late 2020, from around 100 new cases confirmed per day in October, to around 1,400 daily cases currently.

Over the last couple of years, the al-Husseiniya hospital has been at the centre of several complaints about negligence and unsanitary conditions.

According to Egypt Watch, an independent advocacy and research platform, issues surrounding oxygen supplies is a common problem in Egypt’s public hospitals, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the health ministry’s lack of preparedness.  

Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country, with around 100 million inhabitants, has reported over 140,000 cases of the Covid-19 disease, with 7,800 deaths.

However, the true number of cases is believed to be far higher, as only positive tests from health ministry labs have been recorded. 

Egypt’s health authority has announced that a Chinese vaccine made by Sinopharm has been approved for emergency use, and inoculations should begin within the next two weeks.

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