Tourist hot spot Egypt 'likely under-reporting 19,000' coronavirus cases, disease specialists believe
Egypt's official toll stands at 126 cases of the novel COVID-19, some of which include foreign nationals as well as Egyptians.
However, Canadian disease specialists believe Egypt, which is home to more than 100 million people, is likely to be underreporting the cases due to the increasing number of infections among tourists.
At least 97 foreign nationals who visited Egypt since mid-February showed symptoms or tested positive for the novel coronavirus after returning home from their trip, The Guardian reported, citing public health data.
The majority of these cases reportedly spent time on Nile cruises believed to be the source of the outbreak in the southern city of Luxor, a tourism hotspot frequented by millions of foreign nationals every year.
"Under the conservative estimate of COVID-2019 burden, where linked and ambiguous cases are eliminated, we estimated an outbreak size of 19,310 cases in Egypt," they said, using a mix of flight data, traveller data and infection rates.
"Egypt likely has a large burden of COVID-2019 cases that are unreported and greater public health clinical capacity may help identify and manage cases."
The allegations laid by the disease specialists came amid reports of Egypt’s first death from the virus - a 60-year-old Egyptian woman in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, 465 miles from Luxor.
A total of 26 people had "changed from positive to negative" for the novel coronavirus, including "25 who had been on the Asara boat", Health Minister Hala Zayed told reporters.
They are still required to complete a period under quarantine prior to leaving the hospital, where they are currently staying, she added, without specifying when it would end.
Tourism Minister Khaled El-Enany said there had been "a decline in tourism globally including in Egypt but our rates aren't as severe as other countries".
Speaking alongside Zayed in Cairo, he noted that his ministry had focused its efforts on Luxor and Aswan "because the sole [virus] problem we have is on a Nile cruise boat travelling to southern Egypt".
Egypt, like many country's battling the spread of the infection across the world, has imposed precautionary measures.
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Last week, authorities banned mass gatherings across the country as part of efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, according to state media.
The new measure - which was announced by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly - includes a temporary ban on public gatherings for religious festivals such as the popular celebrations of births of saints and prophets.
Egypt's ministry of culture responded to the measure by announcing that large-scale cultural events will be put on hold, while the interior ministry said prison visits will be halted for ten days.
Schools, however, will remain open, Education Minister Tarek Shawki said, who insisted that the situation is "safe and does not warrant fears".
The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 6,526 people worldwide, while over 170,855 infections have been confirmed.