Health experts have warned that Turkey’s coronavirus situation is out of control and that deaths from the disease could soon be on a par with Italy or Spain, reported the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network on Tuesday.
“The recent data on cases and death tolls shows that the situation is out of control in Turkey. If the necessary measures are not taken, Turkey will be like Italy or Spain, where the daily death toll is in the hundreds,” Emrah Altındiş, a Turkish professor from Harvard University’s Medical Faculty, told BIRN.
Turkey only reported its first coronavirus patient on March 11, but cases and deaths have rapidly risen since then. The Turkish health minister confirmed on Tuesday seven more deaths due to the coronavirus and announced 343 new cases, raising the total number of cases in the country to 1,872.
Turkey has halted incoming flights from dozens of countries and closed a wide range of non-essential businesses and venues, and announced a curfew on elderly and vulnerable citizens over the weekend, though it has refrained from enforcing a full lockdown.
However, some medical experts have said that the measures are insufficient.
Altındiş said that South Korea was successful in restraining the pandemic because it was testing 20,000 a day, and that China reduced transmission by shutting down the infected city of Wuhan – but he said that there had not been widespread testing or strict lockdowns of major cities in Turkey.
“Either the government is hiding the real numbers [of cases], or silly things are happening in Turkey,” he said.
“The Turkish government is making propaganda to show that the process is being managed well. They know this situation will have very severe political and economic consequences.”
The Health Ministry has tested more than 24,000 people, but this number may quickly rise after the arrival of 50,000 quick diagnostic kits from China on Monday. A further 300,000 are expected to arrive on Thursday, the ministry said.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) urged the government on March 23 to be more transparent regarding the pandemic.
“The cities and towns where cases were confirmed should be announced publicly as well as death and infected people’s gender and age range,” TBB said.
One doctor who works in a university hospital told BIRN under condition of anonymity: “What I observe in my hospital and the general situation is that the real numbers are at least two to three times higher than the numbers that the government announced. The COVID-19 pandemic is now out of control.”
The same doctor said the Turkish Health Ministry seemed to be implementing a wait-and-see policy, but this meant it was late in implementing necessary steps.
“It seems that this week is the most critical since the incubation period for the new coronavirus is around 14 days,” he said. “Many people will flock to hospitals and we will be speaking of thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths on a daily basis. Turkey will be a second Italy or worse,” he told BIRN.
The government has introduced a a 100 billion lira ($15.4 billion) aid package to help Turkey's economy cope with the global coronavirus outbreak, but some economists and opposition politicians have criticised it as being insufficient.
“The government has asked people to stay at home but these people have to work and feed their families,” the doctor told BIRN.
“The government’s economic package has had no effect on ordinary people. If it does not support these people financially, we cannot talk about stopping this pandemic.”