Doctors say Turkish COVID-19 outbreak worse than reported as hospitalizations swell

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus, walk in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 05 August 2020

Doctors say Turkish COVID-19 outbreak worse than reported as hospitalizations swell

  • In Ankara, Ali Karakoc, general secretary of its Medics’ Chamber, said roughly 1,000 people test positive in the capital each day
  • He blamed what he called a premature easing of lockdown measures in June

ISTANBUL: Doctors in Turkey’s coronavirus hotspots say hospitals are filling up with more cases than are reflected in the official nationwide count, which resurged above 1,000 this week.
Intensive care units (ICUs) and emergency rooms in hospitals set aside for COVID-19 patients are at capacity in the capital Ankara and the southeastern city of Gaziantep, medics associations from those regions told Reuters this week.
The government, which lifted a partial lockdown in June to restart the economy, sounded its own warning on Tuesday when the health minister described the 1,083 new COVID-19 cases as a “severe” rise after a four-day holiday weekend.
In response, authorities rolled out new inspections and enforcement measures, including fines for not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing. New cases had hovered just below 1,000 for more than three weeks, according to official figures.
But Aysegul Ates Tarla, head of the Gaziantep-Kilis Medics’ Chamber, said a single hospital in the region logged 200 new COVID-19 cases in one day recently, with the infection rate among health workers especially high.
In Ankara, Ali Karakoc, general secretary of its Medics’ Chamber, said roughly 1,000 people test positive in the capital each day and he blamed what he called a premature easing of lockdown measures in June.
“Patients are being made to wait on gurneys for hours or are being sent home. Even those who have pneumonia are sent home because they cannot find a place,” he said, adding COVID-dedicated beds were now full.
The health ministry, which divides cases by regions in daily updates, was not immediately available for comment.
According to a document seen by Reuters, Ankara’s provincial health authority requested all hospitals set aside 50% of clinic beds and all empty ICU beds for COVID-19, and asked for delays in all elective surgeries and admissions for internal medicine.
Separately, the authority said 63% of ICU beds in Ankara were occupied while 50% of all hospital beds were occupied. “The pandemic is still under control in our province,” it said.
Official figures indicate the new coronavirus has killed 5,765 people and infected 234,934 in Turkey, putting the country 17th globally in a Reuters tally of total cases.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has lobbied hard for countries to allow tourists to visit Turkey again to shore up the economy, and on Tuesday Germany lifted travel warnings for some Turkish regions.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said the bump in cases is due mainly to individuals ignoring rules.
In July, he posted a photo on Twitter of tightly packed soccer fans watching a game with the question: “Did everyone hold their breath for 90 minutes?“
The government said Thursday would mark the most intensive inspections to date of marketplaces, businesses, restaurants and other public areas.
Karakoc of the Ankara medics group said the government could do more. “If you let people sit side by side on public transportation, if you make them work shoulder to shoulder in factories, people will ignore it when you warn them,” he said.
In Gaziantep, Ates Tarla said authorities would probably raise the bed capacity in COVID-19 units by 25% to free up space ahead of what she expects will be a jump in infections two weeks after the holiday.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.