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On Nile Cruiser, 12 crew members test positive for the virus and Egypt fears a larger epidemic

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CAIRO Twelve crew members aboard a Nile cruise ship were placed in isolation on Friday after being tested positive for coronavirus, said the Ministry of Health Egypts.

Crew members were asymptomatic, which means they showed no signs of illness, and the ship was moved to a distant part of the river, 24 kilometers from the tourist center of Luxor, for be disinfected.

However, this sudden outbreak of cases, the largest group in Egypt to date, has fueled growing fears of a nervous Egyptian audience of a much higher number of infections in their country than what the government has detected or declared.

Until Friday, Egypt, which is highly dependent on tourism and has a weak health care system, said it had only discovered three cases of coronavirus in the country, and that only one was Egyptian. But in the past week, at least 26 tourists have tested positive for the virus after returning from vacation in Egypt, including 11 Greeks, seven Americans, and six french.

At least three of these tourists have traveled on the Nile cruise ship, nominated in local media like to Sara.

Egyptian health officials said the infection started with a Taiwanese-American woman who traveled on the cruise ship in late January and left Egypt on February 1. The 12 crew members were infected, as was a husband and wife from California who traveled on the same ship in mid-February and have since been hospitalized.

Egyptian officials said the crew members tested positive on Thursday, at the end of a 14-day observation period. The vessel continued to operate during this period. It docked in Luxor Thursday at the end of a two-day cruise.

It was not clear whether the 12 affected crew members continued to work on the boat during the month of February. If they did, it opened the possibility that they had spread the virus to other tourists or Egyptians working along the Nile.

In Texas, seven Houston area residents who tested positive were part of a group of tourists who visited Egypt in February. It is unknown if they traveled on the Nile.

Egyptian officials are themselves to blame. Under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the government has repeatedly tried to hide the truth about events that could harm them, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

In 2015, the government first denied that a terrorist bomb had dropped an airliner over Sinai, even though Russia and Britain have said that the Islamic State was responsible.

After an EgyptAir passenger plane dived into the Mediterranean in 2016, killing the 66 people on board, Egypt charged a bomb, then slowed down the official investigation into the accident . A The French investigation has just been completed it was caused by a technical fault exacerbated by breaches of airline security.

In August, authorities attempted to claim that a car accident was responsible for a huge explosion outside a Cairo hospital that killed 20 people, to admit one day later that terrorism was the cause.

This time, however, Egyptian officials have stressed the integrity of their approach. The government has set up a website to document its efforts against the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization in Egypt has publicly praised.

Some opposition groups have claimed, without much evidence, that the government is hiding coronavirus infections or even secretly treating patients in military hospitals.

A W.H.O. a Cairo spokesperson refused to answer all questions and referred them to the Egypts health ministry.

Even with an honest effort, however, the Egypts campaign to contain the spread of the virus can be compromised by its own health system.

While Mr. el-Sisi has invested billions of dollars in ambitious projects like the sprawling new capital under construction outside Cairo, or an elegant national museum slated to open later this year, his government has been criticized for the underfunding of ruined public services. including health care and education.

Many public hospitals are in poor condition, which raises the question of whether doctors can afford to detect the virus in a timely manner or treat it in the event of many infections.

Regional rivalries have also become a factor in the fight against the Egypts coronavirus. This week, the government banned all citizens of its Gulf rival, Qatar, from entering the country, days after Qatar, which has 11 reported cases, imposed a similar ban on the Egyptians.

But the epidemic has given Egypt a chance to strengthen ties with China, which is building part of the new administrative capital. Last week, Mr. el-Sissi sent his Minister of Health, Hala Zayed, to Beijing to liaise with the Chinese authorities.

Upon her return to Egypt, Ms. Zayed praised China's efforts to contain the virus.

The same evening, as a sign of solidarity, Egypt threw the flag of China on historic monuments, notably the temples of Karnak and Philae to the south, and the citadel of Salah al-Din in Cairo.

As it has now become clear, however, some tourists visiting these temples in recent weeks have themselves been struck by the virus.

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