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Covid-19: Egypt health minister under fire for attending wedding amid pandemic

Social media users have contrasted the minister violating lockdown measures with the dire state of Egypt's overwhelmed hospitals
The large wedding was compared to scenes of hospitals and medical staff facing shortages in Egypt (Screengrab/Twitter)

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed has come under fierce criticism after photographs and videos of her attending a large wedding amid the Covid-19 pandemic surfaced online.

Hospitals around Egypt have been overwhelmed by the surge of coronavirus cases, with many people seeking treatment being turned away and medical supplies running out.

A report earlier this month revealed that Egypt’s healthcare system could be on the brink of collapse, particularly following warnings from health officials that the true death toll from the illness may be much higher than is being reported.  

Decision-makers in Egypt have been scrambling to put measures in place to curb the spread of the virus after infection numbers rose dramatically in recent weeks. 

Despite the government urging people to wear masks, stay home and maintain social distance, Zayed was spotted at a large wedding on Sunday, prompting Egyptians to vent their fury. 

Photos and videos of the wedding were shared on social media, including on Instagram. 

Translation: Imagine, at the height of the disaster we are in, Dr Hala Zayed warns us against weddings and yet she is at a wedding of her relative at a wedding hall, where they have singers and actors, waiters and dancers. The most important thing is she is wearing a mask and nothing else seems to matter. 

Translation: A better quality video showing the minister of health at a wedding ceremony with invitees not wearing masks, despite the ban on gatherings in Egypt. At the same time the minister speaks daily about the need to reduce gatherings and raise awareness. Where is this awareness? 

Many social media users have been using the hashtag "Hala Zayed" in Arabic to condemn the minister’s actions and call for accountability, as well as for officials to act responsibly. 

Some have also compared the images from the wedding to photos of queues of people waiting to be treated in hospitals. 

Translation: The failure of a health minister Hala Zayed at a wedding. Solidarity with people while an atmosphere of sadness is present across Egypt after the widespread deaths in Zefta Hospital and Hussainiya Hospital. She doesn’t even care enough about people’s feelings and has allowed for the photos to be published. The system does not respect people’s souls or their lives, and does not respect their feelings. 

On Monday, a man who filmed scenes of chaos at a hospital treating Covid-19 patients was summoned by Egyptian police for questioning.

The video footage, which had been widely shared online, showed 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 reportedly run out. 

The video recorded people screaming in desperation while a traumatised nurse cowered in a corner - an image which has been used by social media users to highlight the dire situation in Egypt.  

The Cairo wedding that Zayed attended was held just hours after five people had died at Hussainiya hospital, according to timestamps on the photos shared on social media. 

One social media user compared the image from the wedding to the cowering nurse, and suggested that Egyptian authorities would be quick to crack down on those who took photos and shared them online, just like had happened to the man who shot the hospital footage. 

Translation: This is a wedding, your highness, minister of health! This was done with no issue because the father of the bride is Major General Wael Al-Sai, the assistant of Zayed. But the most important thing now is for them to go and quickly arrest the person who took the photos...

Zayed came under fire last year, when she was accused of negligence and mishandling the pandemic by failing to provide hospitals with sufficient levels of equipment. 

The Ministry of Health in Egypt reported 1,411 infections on 30 December, the highest for a single day in five months, bringing overall infections to 139,471 since the pandemic first hit the country in February 2020.

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

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