An employee at the Ain Shams field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Cairo, Egypt June 16, 2020.
  • Egypt has arrested doctors who speak out about the country's fragile health system and their poor working conditions in the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple reports.
  • Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has also blamed the medical profession for the outbreak in the country.
  • Medics who speak out are being charged on grounds such as "spreading false news" and "terrorism," Amnesty International said.
  • Researchers say cases may be much higher than official reports. A journalist who reported this was expelled from the country, The Guardian reported.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Egypt is arresting medics who speak out about the country's coronavirus crisis, according to multiple reports.

The arrests come after the country's prime minister suggested it was "negligence and mismanagement" from the medical profession that was to blame for the disease's spread in the country.

Doctors have called for more beds and supplies at hospitals, Al-Monitor reported. But in response authorities have waged what Amnesty International has termed a "campaign of harassment and intimidation" that leaves having to choose between risking catching Covid-19 at work, or being punished by the authorities.

According to official figures cited by the Associated Press (AP), at least 188 medical workers in Egypt have died of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

In May, there were outbreaks among medical staff at overcrowded quarantine hospitals, according to independent news outlet Mada Masr.

At least eight medical workers have been arbitrarily detained for expressing criticism of the government's handling of the virus, Amnesty rights organisation said. This is often on vague charges such as "spreading false news" and "terrorism."

The prime minister has blamed doctors for the crisis

In a June 13 press conference Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly suggested that it was the "negligence and mismanagement" of doctors to blame for the spread of the coronavirus, the AP reported.

The comment provoked an angry response from the Egyptian Medical Syndicate union. Local branch member and treasurer Mohamed El-Fawal wrote a Facebook post demanding an apology, the AP reported.

In response, a government spokesperson lavished the profession with praise and the title of "Egypt's White Army" - a longstanding badge of honour for doctors - BBC Arabic reported.

Nonetheless, El-Fawal was then arrested and has been held for at least 12 days, according to Al-Monitor.

A later meeting at the syndicate to discuss working conditions was broken up by security forces, AP reported, citing the its former leader.

Arrests, raids and threats if medics express concern

Other workers have been arrested or had their homes raided - in one case, just for a report of a positive case. Amnesty confirmed the following cases:

  • 26-year-old doctor Alaa Shaaban Hamida, who was arrested in March by the National Security Agency (NSA) after a nurse used her phone to report a case to the government hotline. The hospital director had reported her for bypassing him, Amnesty said. Shaaban Hamida is in pre-trial detention.
  • Another medic, ophthalmologist Hany Bakr, was arrested in April for making a Facebook post that criticised the government for sending medical aid to Italy and China.
  • In May, security officers raided the home of a doctor who wrote an article criticising the country's response to the crisis, as well as detailing its frail medical system. Amnesty did not name the doctor.

Other health workers told Amnesty that they have received messages from officials threatening retribution if they refuse to work on grounds of unsafe working conditions.

Egypt has reported more than 76,000 cases of the coronavirus to date, as well as 3,422 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

It is a relatively low number for the most populous country in the Middle East. Researchers have suggested that the true extent of the outbreak could be much greater.

When The Guardian reported in March that infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto believed the case count was likely much higher, the newspaper's Egypt correspondent and author of the piece was forced to leave the country. Six other journalists have also been arrested since the start of the pandemic, the AP reported.

Business Insider has contacted Egypt's Cabinet of Ministers for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.

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