Turkey enters critical week in COVID-19 fight

Turkey enters critical week in COVID-19 fight

Medical experts warned Turkey has entered the most critical week in terms of determining the speed of the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the first official case was reported on March 11 and the critical 100 confirmed case benchmark was reached at the end of the first week.

Be it the government or society, Turkey seems to show some similar trends in terms of handling the pandemic. But it also shows some serious divergences as well.

Just as has been the case all over the world, conspiracy theories abound on the origin of the coronavirus. As a result, there is a rise in the number of anti-Semitic posts on social media. Prejudice is not limited to one group, however, as you can come across a posting that says, “a Palestinian terrorist has blown himself up at home as he was asked to work from home.”

When you have the president of the United States, insisting on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” how can you expect the rest of the world to behave any better?

Solidarity vs selfishness

People display examples of selfishness as well as solidarity. While many have shopped more than their usual amounts to cope with self-isolation, one can fairly say there has not been panic shopping, nor an alarming shortage of any specific item.

Some people have, however, rushed to buy certain drugs believed to provide protection from the coronavirus. Despite warnings by physicians that there is no evidence that the drugs that are believed to be partially effective in curing COVID-19 do not protect from catching the virus, some went ahead and procured those drugs, risking a shortage for those who might really need it. Luckily, the Health Ministry ordered pharmacies to hand over these drugs to the ministry and brought limitation to their sale. On the other hand, you can come across cases like this group of owners of 3D printers getting organized to initiate larger production of masks with a production cost of as low as 5 liras.

The challenge of the oldies but goldies

As elsewhere in Europe, the challenge has been to make people stay at home. Initially, we thought older generations will be much safer as until recently they were believed to stay home and not socialize outside. But to the surprise of the many, and in a clear sign of the fact that Turkey has an aging population, it proved a clear challenge to keep grandpas and grandmas at home. 2019 statistics had revealed those aged 65 and above reached 10 percent of the population for the first time. It took an official ban introduced during the weekend to force this 10 percent into self-isolation.

Currently the main challenge remains on how to keep the rest of the country in an individually self-imposed state of emergency. Initially we have seen mixed results. In some cases, customers were allowed in markets or banks in limited numbers, as people started queuing leaving a one-meter distance. In other cases, people shopped shoulder-to-shoulder in local traditional open markets.

The weekend, however, proved alarming and disappointing. Despite calls on staying at home unless there was an urgent need, people rushed outside to parks, markets and seaside when they saw the warm air during the weekend. Ironically, the police, who would have in no time intervened if 10 women were to come together to shout “no to femicides,” were nowhere to be seen in places where groups of dozens gathered to fish or went to bus stations to say farewell to their friends going to join the army to serve their military services.

With the exception of Japan, countries in the Far East like China, South Korea and Singapore owe their good performance in the fight against the pandemic to the introduction of draconian measures.

Turkey has so far remained unwilling to resort to total lockdown, endorsing a phased down approach. No doubt there is hesitation in terms of the economic consequences. Lowering the tax on plane tickets, while asking people not to travel, or lowering the interest rates on mortgage loans which might encourage people to go out to look at houses while they are supposed to not move, won’t do the trick.

Those in the service sector, for instance the waiters of closed restaurants, need to know how they will make ends meet at the end of this month. Others who are supposed to work outside so that the economy does not come to a standstill need to know whether they are protected enough not to get contaminated.

The measures that have so far been declared seem to fall short of alleviating the economic consequences if the country was to come under total lockdown, a decision many believe is imperative if Turkey is to avoid a high death toll.