The First Ever Organized Webinar On Covid 19 That Came On Time

23 March 2020

Kemet Boutros Boutros Ghali Foundation launched a series of webinars to discuss the repercussions of the pandemic which forced governments all over the world to impose countrywide lockdowns.

Dr. Moushira Khattab, Egypt’s former minister of population and Executive president of Kemet Boutros Boutros Ghli Foundation (BBGF), said that the virus declared as a pandemic, has affected almost all facets of our life and thus the foundation felt the urge to launch its first webinar on COVID 19 in an attempt to shed light on the issue from its multiple dimensions.

Quoting the CNN and John Hopkins research center, Dr. Khattab pointed to recent statistics that show that almost 399 thousand people were infected, meantime 14, 706 individuals lost their lives for the virus. “The strict measures taken by governments around the world to stop the spread of the virus globally will have its negative impact on the health, economic and political systems worldwide.”

COVID 19 has become one of the major international players that will illuminate the core values governments hold. The closedown of almost all activities because of the pandemic will prompt governments expand central control over resources in response to the pandemic, Dr. Khattab said. According to her, many governments now enforce mandatory lockdowns which make people wonder whether life will go back to normal again. “So, as everyone felt the heat of the crises, the foundation decided to open up its online gates and start series of discussions on the challenges, opportunities and the repercussions of that pandemic locally, regionally and globally,” Dr. Khattab said.

Mr. Mamdouh Abbas, Chairman of Kemet Boutros Boutros Ghali Foundation, said that COVID 19 proved to be one of the most serious challenges facing humanity. “It has grave social, political, and economic repercussions, not to mention the health hazards,” he added.

The challenge facing our country, according to Abbas, is that the threat of COVID 19 has come after long period of accumulated economic progress and the virus is expected to put an end to that with expected economic contractions due to the lockdown measures adopted by world governments. In his opinion, the two world wars had not made the world a better place neither the waves of viruses targeting humanity.

Dr. Maha El Rabat, World Health Organization’s (WHO) envoy to Egypt on COVID 19, said that once the first case of COVID 19 infection was announced in Wuhan, China, the organization recognized the virus as a new type of the Corona family of viruses but with different symptoms. COVID 19 has unprecedented impact on old- aged individuals and those with chronic diseases who are seen as the most vulnerable.

The WHO’s definition of a confirmed case of covid-19 is a person shown by laboratory testing to be infected with the virus, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms, Dr. Rabat said. However, some reported case numbers from China have included people with symptoms of covid-19, but without laboratory confirmation.

The most commonly reported symptoms include a fever, dry cough and tiredness, and in mild cases people may get just a runny nose or a sore throat. In the most severe cases, people with the virus can develop difficulty breathing, and may ultimately experience organ failure. Some cases are fatal.

On 11 March, the WHO announced that the outbreak should be considered a pandemic– a term that has no universally agreed definition, but means that multiple countries are seeing sustained transmission between people of an outbreak causing disease or death.

The risk of death has been difficult to calculate, as it relies on accurate numbers of those who have symptoms but survive – and some countries, including the US, have been slow to increase capacity for testing. A small study of people who contracted covid-19 in Wuhan suggests that the risk of death increases with age, and is also higher for those who have diabetes, blood clotting problems, or have shown signs of sepsis.

According to WHO statistics, there are 294.110 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in almost 187 countries, out of this number 12.144 death cases mostly in Europe and the United States, Dr. Rabat said. Regionally, until March 22, there were 25.161 cases of Corona virus in 19 countries and 1733 deaths. The huge number of cases was marked in Iran and the least was in Djibouti, Dr. Rabat said. However, she pointed out that it was hard to get the right statistics as far as countries like Libya, Yemen and Syria are concerned due to the ongoing conflicts, she added.

Young, healthy adults are still at risk of contracting covid-19 and developing severe, life-threatening disease.

The health system in countries around the world have been over- burdened by the increasing number of cases. Rabat said that countries around the world had to impose several strict measures especially the lockdown to control the spread of the virus, launched campaigns on the necessity of social distancing, regular handwashing and, in some places, face masks. According to her there are differences in the governments’ responses mechanisms due to differences in the capacity of the health system. The main target has been to slow down the spread of the virus, giving the health system a chance to respond efficiently and to be able to provide the best health service affordable in such pandemic. In China, they were able to contain the spread of the virus because of the strict measures imposed by the government especially testing and social distancing, Dr. Rabat said. According to the WHO envoy, governments have two parallel routes to contain the virus: mobilize all the capacity of the health system and adopt the WHO protocol, meantime expand their response and containment. In most cases, governments will give priority to the health sector and organize the civil society’s initiative as well as opening up all channels of communication to exchange information on means of containing the virus, Dr. Rabat said.

The role of the civil society and NGOs in Egypt was thus highlighted by Amr Moussa, Former Arab League Secretary General and member of BBG board of trustees. According to him, the NGOs have the privilege of reaching out for the most remote villages, offering help and assistance. They have also the chance to be in close touch with their constituencies and thus able to enhance their awareness of the virus.

However, Moussa pointed out that the role of regional Arab organization is so far unheard of. Some of these organizations, according to him, should have been launching campaigns on the threat of the virus. Moussa also referred to the urgent need for our research centers to contribute to the ongoing world efforts to find out more about the virus, means of containment, treatment and certainly vaccination. Despite the fact that it is hard to tell when a vaccination is due to be manufactured, which might take months, governments should be as transparent as possible in this regard, Moussa added.

Mohamed Al- Orabi, former minister of foreign affairs, described the current situation as a global catastrophe. “We will be discussing sooner than later the era before and after the COVID 19. Political boundaries proved to be setting against humans but ceased to exist in front of terrorists, pandemic, and climate changes and thus we should review the role of the international and regional organizations which ignored the fact that people are the base of cooperation and development.”

According to him, the post COVID 19 is a new political era and we should be looking for the lost opportunities, for means of developments and investing in people.

According to Dr. Khattab, China presented an ideal example in containing the virus and for the fifth day running the country had not witnessed new cases. China’s experience is to be explained through its ambassador to Cairo, Liao Liqian. Citing what Mr. Moussa and Orabi said on the virus as being the common enemy of mankind, the Chinese ambassador referred to the fact that the virus had no geographical boundaries that became a threat to international peace and security. “We realized that we can’t defeat the virus and overcome its repercussions unless we are all united. Therefore, we have been dealing with this crisis through two parallel axes,” he said. According to Liqian the first axe is to contain and fight the virus while the second has been to maintain the social and economic development secured throughout the previous years. He pointed out that the measures taken by Egypt have been effective and thus the number of cases, if compared to the total number of the population, is fairly low. “The number of infected, treated and even the death cases in Egypt echo the people’s understanding of the measures taken by the government and the trust shared between the two sides,” Liqian said.

Moreover, the Chinese ambassador, referred to the role played by the civil society in Egypt which proved to be vital in containing the negative impact of the lockdown and the measures integrated to control the prevalence of the virus.

In China, ambassador Liqian, said scientific approach was integrated to control the virus by classifying the number of infected individuals, those with or without clear symptoms, and those who have been close to the patients known as ‘contact tracing’. In each and every step there were certain measures to be taken and efforts were exerted to enhance the preventive measures… “Early detection is significantly important because it helps the health system respond effectively, on time and mobilize the country’s resources in the right direction. In Wuhan, for example, the government sent 40.000 medical teams not only to offer medical services but to assist the government efforts in controlling the virus,” he added.

In an attempt to gradually remove the lockdown measures, China is currently placing preventive measures buying time until a vaccine is to be developed. “Technology has also been of great help especially when it comes to using robots at airports, railway stations and the underground to enhance preventive measures.” China’s ambassador pointed out that his country had been sharing with the world community all the information and statistics needed to combat the virus. “During the crisis Egypt offered a helping hand to Beijing and in return we are working closely with the government of this country to maintain the long and good ties between the two countries,” he added.

In Japan, Ambassador Masaki NOKE, said the intense traffic between his country and China has been behind the spread of the virus. Almost 1.5 million Chinese visit Japan annually and the first case detected was of a Japanese coming back from China. The country suffered 1000 cases but there had been no explosive expansion of the virus. However, the government of Japan had to put in place several strict measures on the economic and social activities to minimize the social contacts.

“The first objective was to delay and lower the peak of the virus spread as much as possible to avoid the collapse of the health system which is the second objective. Buying time in this scenario was vital to strengthen the health system and at the same time find out the possibility of developing a vaccine.”

Japan was able to target the two previously mentioned objectives, according to NOKE, by focusing on cluster group of patients, respond to them as early as possible, then prioritize early diagnoses of patients of serious cases who need intensive care and finally trying to change the behavior of the society to secure the preventive measures integrated to circumvent the virus spread and accentuate the repercussions.

Ambassador Anis Salem, referred to the three phases of a crisis. He said that the three takeaways in crisis management is the pre- crisis phase which in the case of this pandemic was not a total surprise. According to him there were several institutions assimilated a global outbreak of a pandemic. Early warning, assessment of the threat, and means of prevention were all on the agenda for discussion by the three institutions. However, the results of such events were not taken seriously where sharing information, transparency and rapid reaction had thus gone with the winds of the pandemic, Salem said.

Moreover, there is the issue of leadership. In the current pandemic, as Salem pointed out, the quality of leadership was questioned. “The populist leaderships are not well equipped or credible. That seemed clear in the US and the UK and a number of European countries. The credibility of the political system in such events is important for mobilizing the forces to contain the negative impact of the lockdown,” Salem said. “The credibility of the political system is an important component capable of mobilizing the country’s internal capabilities,” he added Within the context of failing to mobilize the society’s forces, Salem referred to the media’s role as one of the big challenges in such events. Unfortunately, media lost its credibility among people because of the mixed messages sent through the many channels of communication and people started questioning the validity of the messages they are receiving, Salem said.

The second phase in managing the crisis, is the time to take serious decisions and put down strategy of containment. “The rising number of infected people and the impact on the health system and how you go with the fact that you don’t have enough intensive care units (ICU) in a country like the UK which has 4000 beds when you need 10000 beds to cope with the pandemic cases, should have been studied carefully,” Salem said. The decision whether to close down schools or keep it open when the virus is peaking, the financial measures and how far people may tolerate the lockdown and the legal measures of the packages offered by the governments, should have been part of the strategy, he added.

The lockdown of the economies around the world has obviously serious repercussions, Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, BBG Member of the Board of Trustees, said. According to him, the serious impact of the pandemic on global economies depends on the time span of the lockdown. In Egypt, he added, if the pandemic is to continue for six months, the country will be back to the dilemma prior to the major monetary and economic reform policies adopted since 2016.

Several sectors will be hit hard by the pandemic especially the pharmaceutical, automotive and engineering industries because most of the components were imported. The trade balance deficit will increase as well as the budget deficit due to contraction in sovereign revenues, Abdel Nour said. There will be an increase in public and social spending due to the packages offered to the poor and the unemployed during the pandemic, as well as the stimulus packages to support the private sector, he added.

Abdel Nour called upon the government to review the budget, the food stored for emergencies, activating legislations against those making use of the crisis, taking strict measures to deal with the decrease of monetary reserves. Opening up the economy should be considered within three months, he said.

Dr. Ablla Abdellatif, Executive President of Egypt Center for Economic studies, said that the internal management of the current crisis should be targeting the well- being of Egyptians especially on the health side. Yet, the government should also secure the existing investments and maintain its economic and social policies during the crisis. Despite the fact that such policies should be ushered in by the central government, the execution should be decentralized, Dr. Abdellatif added.

Vulnerabilities persist however, including underperformance in exports and foreign investments. Thus, challenges facing export- oriented industries should be given priority in the government packages to cushion the negative impact of the crisis as they will be the most affected because of disruption of global trade as travel is restricted and supply chains are disrupted. The situation underscores the urgency of resolving structural challenges to safeguard a sustained recovery of that sector which should focus on doing away with business environment constraints while enhancing revenue- mobilization to create the fiscal space needed to invest more.

The pandemic proved to be a good opportunity as well when it comes to settling several economic structural issues. Dr. Abdelllatef pointed out that the pandemic had given the government the chance to revisit the salary ladder of medical teams involved in confronting the pandemic which should be applied to other professions that need to scale up their payments. According to her, the government has also managed during the crisis to facilitate the procedures and do away with bureaucracy which should be the rule.

According to Dr. Abdellatif, we should be prepared not only for the peak phase but for recovery as well. “Like all crises that has a beginning, a peak and end or the recovery phase, we should be looking forward at each and every sector of the economy to see how we will manage the recovery process,” she said, adding that the recovery phase will not be uniformed. China, for instance, has started already its recovery process which is not the case in Europe or the Americas. Therefore, we should be prepared for that moment from now and the center for economic studies has been working hard on that issue, she said.

Dr. Hany Tawfique, the renowned economic expert, referred to the global impact of the pandemic. He said that globally the world is in debt of $250 trillion with a GDP of almost $80 trillion. With the financial packages to ease the impact of the economic lockdown and the injection of money unto the veins of the economy, the government capacity to repay its debts is catastrophic. “The state of uncertainty is the most difficult. We are still at the beginning but there are a lot of the unknowns and if uncertainty lingers the results will be devastating,” he added.

In Egypt, the Central Bank resumed its monetary easing cycle throughout the first half of the fiscal year 2020, thus contributing to a recovery in private credit. It has also cut policy rates successively, following strong moderation in inflation, which dropped to an average of 5.8%. compared to 14% during the first half of 2019 fiscal year. The Central Bank undertook an additional 300- basis- points policy rate cuts, to support credit extension, especially to the private sector.

Citing the step taken by the three major national banks in Egypt when they issued a new bond with high profit rate to pour more money into the veins of the stock market, Tawfique said that we should be more careful on that. “In this respect every penny should count especially during the crisis. We should not collect money from people to give foreign investors the luxury of transferring their money out of our stock market with an added value,” he added.

The profit rate which decreased by 3% leading to a $150 billion surplus should have been targeting the seven million households living under the poverty line, Tawfique said, adding that gold have proven to be the save- haven on the individual’s level and that the government should take into consideration the need to float the dollar price once more to maintain fiscal consolidation path.

Ambassador Raouf Saad, Head of Egypt-EU partnership program, pointed to the expected economic contraction which will hit the global economy if the pandemic persists. Signals show that if the lockdown lasts for six months, then the global economy will suffer acute contraction leading to recession. “Despite of all odds, the concept of globalization will change. Countries will move away from the political, cultural and trade polarization and there will be new types of ties among the world governments,” Saad said. The capitalist system will also look different post COVID 19 as there will be a new type of relationship that keeps a distance between the concept of excessive individualism and new investment policies that support public services, he added. “Thanks to the pandemic, health services have become part and parcel of human rights.”

In Egypt, Saad said that the current bold measures taken by the government to stop the outbreak of the pandemic would not have been possible without the previously adopted reform policies. The steps taken by the national banks was hailed by Saad who believes that the new bonds opened up new gates for investment especially for expatriates in the Gulf. He called upon the government to get more Egyptian banks involved in issuing such bonds and expand their branches all over the region, meantime enhance cooperation between the Egyptian and foreign banks in general.

Salah Diab, Chairman of Al Masry Al- Youm media establishment, pointed to the active role played by the local media. He said the media echoed the government health messages in such a professional way. Despite the fact that the country will be facing several challenges especially as far as the economy is concerned, Egyptians have been responsive to the media messages. Diab referred to Egypt defeat in 1967, saying that this country managed this crisis in six years and was able to free its occupied land by focusing its efforts and mobilizing all its forces to achieve a specific target… “We are trained to get out of crises and the pandemic is a new opportunity to mobilize all our economic capabilities to overcome the repercussions of post- COVID 19. We are in need of such aggressive and bold policies that promote foreign investments, rediscover our natural resources and develop a comprehensive outlook for the future,” he said.

Dr. Moustafa Al- Fiqy, Director of Bibliotheca Alexandria, said that the pandemic has stressed the peoples’ right to be well- informed. “Each and every one of us is dealing with the pandemic as a personal problem and thus the need of transparency was vital to manage the crisis,” he added. The post COVID 19 era will witness several changes especially to the peoples’ customs and traditions. There is an urgent need to deal with environmental issues especially pollution, enhance the health system and promote scientific researches, Al Fiqy said.

Quoting the WHO General Director, Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, as saying that COVID 19 is an enemy to humanity, Minister Ali Elddin Helal, BBG Member of the Board of Trustees and professor of political science, said that people should learn the lesson of such pandemic. “Especially in this region, we need to learn the advantages of regional cooperation and coordination of efforts. The Arab Health ministers should be able to exchange information and the Arab League should have done more to make better use of the expertise available in most Arab states,” he said.