The new normal proves challenging for Turkey

The new normal proves challenging for Turkey

Start like a Turk, finish like a German, is a saying that even Turkey’s current envoy to Prague, Egemen Bağış, used once in describing the country’s accession process to the European Union when he served as the minister for EU affairs.

The origin of the saying remains unclear; as some argue it is a saying in German while others insist it is a Turkish one. At any rate, starting like a Turk means starting something with high enthusiasm. If it takes German perseverance to finish something, the saying as far as I am concerned implies a loss of enthusiasm on the part of the Turks on the midway.

Looking at Turkey’s policies against the pandemic reminded me this saying. We can still start the saying with the Turks, yet can not finish it with the Germans. Perhaps with New Zealand? For a definite answer even on New Zealand we still have to wait. And perhaps New Zealand will remain an exception since even the world’s biggest powers are experiencing tremendous difficulty in facing this unprecedented health challenge. For the domestic opposition of the government, it was inconceivable for Turkey to succeed where the West’s most advanced democracies and economies failed. Most probably even many within the government were skeptical in the beginning, leaving the floor totally to the health minister, so he could assume all the responsibility in case things went bad.

Yet even the domestic critics of the government concede that Turkey has fared relatively well in the first three months, since March, when the first case was officially diagnosed. While doubts remained in terms of numbers, seeing catastrophic images coming from the world’s most developed parts, many ended up finding the suspected gap between official and real numbers tolerable.

No doubt from the technicians to the physicians, the Health Ministry personnel’s devoted work has played an important role in managing the first wave of patients. The Health Ministry should be given credit for getting prepared early on, since the science committee to deal with COVID-19 was already established as early as Jan. 10.

Grave mistakes were also committed which no doubt played a role in the increase of the death toll, but again, the public did not question these mistakes as the numbers appeared “normal” when compared with other countries.

In contrast to the health sector, it appears there was less preparation in terms of the economic effects of the pandemic. In addition, the country was caught while the economy was already giving signs of distress. That’s why the country never went into a full lockdown, but opted for age based partial bans and partial curfews. The wheels of the economy had to turn on. That’s also why normalization started by June, earlier than wished by scientific experts.

In contrast to Western countries, on individual basis, there is no objection to wearing masks but implementation remains a problem. Not only in terms of wearing masks but also in terms of keeping social distance. Pictures coming from the holiday resorts as well as other parts of the country are alarming. And in contrast to the first three months, the country’s health infrastructure appears to be experiencing greater difficulty in terms of accommodating increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. The fact that the Ministry of Health stopped disclosing the number of patients under treatment is a clear sign of the deterioration of the situation.

While the public can still tolerate up to a certain point the effects of the pandemic in the general health situation, mismanagement in terms of facing the economic challenges will be met with less understanding.

Pessimism is on a constant growth among experts towards the government’s economic and political policies including those in the realm of foreign policy. Decisions coming from Ankara are seen to aggravate rather than ease the strains on the economy. Even the most optimist within governmental circles as well as the supporters of the government are said to be turning pessimist.

What’s more, while the changes that are taking place in global trade relations due to the pandemic can provide opportunities for Turkey, whether necessary policies are designed based on proper analysis of the global developments remains a big question in the mind of experts. It is going to be a harsh winter for the world, but more so for Turkey.