ANKARA: On April 7, Turkey reported 54,740 new COVID-19 cases and 276 deaths — the highest daily level since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of tests per day is currently around 302,000, meaning that over one-fifth of tests were positive.
The country currently ranks fifth globally for the reported number of daily cases based on a seven-day average.
“Monthly COVID-19 cases tripled recently, while only nine percent of the population have received the second dose of vaccine. There is a serious shortage of vaccinations, pushing us behind schedule,” Prof. Guner Sonmez, a radiologist from Uskudar University in Istanbul, told Arab News, adding that a further increase in cases is likely soon.
“We know that, within two or three weeks, this may lead to an increase in the number of patients in intensive care units,” he continued. “Therefore, a higher death rate is likely in the following weeks.”
Turkey is re-introducing strict measures during Ramadan, with gatherings for iftar and suhoor banned, restaurants and cafés only open for takeaway service, and weekend lockdowns throughout the holy month.
Health experts and many members of the public blame the government for the country’s third COVID-19 wave. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was widely criticized after it held overcrowded rallies throughout the country, violating social-distancing rules. Several AKP officials tested positive for the virus just days after attending the national congress in Ankara on March 24.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca recently told a press conference, having been asked about the wisdom of holding rallies during a pandemic, “There is no point in keeping this issue on the agenda.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s vaccination rollout continues to be slow, mostly because of an overreliance on a single supplier — China’s Sinovac. A first round of around 1.4 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only recently administered.
Sonmez says that Turkey’s reliance on the Chinese-manufactured vaccine has been a mistake. “The Sinovac vaccine that Turkey is using has a low success rate in protecting people against contagion,” he said, and said mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech one have around 90 percent efficacy after the second dose.
Some 75 percent of new cases in Turkey have reportedly been caused by the UK variant of COVID-19, with ICUs in major cities already getting full. Of the country’s 81 provinces, 70 are listed as ‘risky’ or ‘very risky,’ including Ankara and Istanbul.
If cases continue to rise as expected, Turkey’s tourism sector, which accounts for 11 percent of its economy, will likely be severely affected. Turkey’s tourism revenues dropped by 65.1 percent compared to last year, according to official statistics, and the government recently stopped its short-term work allowance scheme that had helped more than 3 million people financially during the pandemic. Last year, more than 100,000 small businesses went bankrupt in Turkey, mostly as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
“A full nationwide lockdown can only be effective if additional economic support is given to employees and employers (as it was) at the peak of the pandemic,” Sonmez said.
On Thursday, Turkey began a vaccination campaign for its more than 1 million tourism-industry workers amid reports that Russia may restrict flights to Turkey for the summer.