Rights group: Egypt authorities shouldn't harass doctors

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Virus Outbreak Egypt

Virus Outbreak Egypt

A health worker wearing protective gear prepares to take swab samples from people queuing in their cars to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through COVID-19 screening center at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

CAIRO (AP) — An international rights group urged Egyptian authorities Thursday to stop a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against health care workers who have criticized the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the pandemic hit, healthcare workers in the country have been complaining of a dearth of protective equipment, testing and hospital beds for front-line doctors.

“Instead of protecting front-line health care workers by addressing their legitimate concerns over their safety and livelihoods, the Egyptian authorities are handling the COVID-19 crisis with their usual repressive tactics,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Overall, Egypt has officially recorded more than 49,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 1,850 deaths. But last month, an Egyptian official said the country might realistically have as many as 100,000 cases.

At least 68 health care workers have died of the virus and more than 400 have tested positive, according to the country’s doctors’ association.

In recent weeks the daily number of new cases in Egypt has often surpassed 1,000, raising concerns the country’s health care system could soon become overwhelmed.

On Monday, Egypt recorded its highest daily death toll of 97 people.

Amnesty said it has documented the arbitrary detention of eight Egyptian health care workers, including six doctors and two pharmacists, who shared their health-related concerns on social media between March and June.

The London-based rights group also alleged that health care workers are facing other threats and administrative penalties.

“The campaign not only further undermines freedom of expression in the country, but also hamstrings the efforts of those tackling the heath crisis and puts their and others’ lives in danger,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa

On Tuesday, Egypt’s Doctors’ Syndicate released a statement saying it had urged Egypt’s top prosecutor to release five physicians who were arrested for having expressed their frustration with the way the Health Ministry is handling the COVID-19 outbreak.

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