I got a call from a friend today: he was livid. His kids’ expensive school here in Cairo has been closed because of an outbreak of swine flu – a common story, even my bro is enjoying a little paid holiday due to the same at his school in Ukraine.

However, when my Egyptian friend took his kids to hospital to have them checked out, he found people crammed in the hospital, flu or not, all breathing the same ikky, sickky hospital air while they waited their turn.

Yesterday, the Egyptian health minister announced hospitals would no longer test people with suspected swine flu – doctors have been told just to whack the suspects full of Tamiflu and the usual anti-viral medication because it’s cheaper than throat swabs and lab work.

Egypt has reported its sixth death due to swine flu (compared with 4000 or so in the US), so it’s no wonder I get the hairy eye when I get on the metro, as we foreigners are considered the culprits. Like the kids in the photo above, some women are wearing those white face masks beloved of Asian countries (I heard eyewitness reports of a group of Japanese tourists climbing through the pure air of Mt Moses in Sinai wearing white masks), while muniquabbas, women who wear the face veil and gloves, must surely feel insulated and protected.

Egypt loves a good conspiracy theory: is it an American plot? A disease created by cash-hungry multi-national drug companies owned by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense? The work of an anti-pig lobby group? It’s been labeled a pandemic, and there are rumours that 20,000 Egyptians are being infected every day, but the Ministry of Health says there are precisely 1881 cases of swine flu in Egypt. Aaah, nobody takes the government figures seriously. The one good thing about swine flu is the government’s personal hygiene campaign – perhaps Egyptians will stop throwing their used tissues out car windows and on the ground.

(Photo credit: AFP)