Turkey struggles to keep the working class at home

Turkey struggles to keep the working class at home

Just as Turkey sent a cargo plane of medical supplies to Spain and Italy, the European countries worst-hit by the novel coronavirus, a group of infectious disease specialists in Turkey called on the government to step up measures so that the country does not become another Italy or Spain.

As of March 29, we are on a par with Germany and are behind Italy and Spain by a few weeks in terms of the number of deaths of patients, said the doctors in a statement. “These ‘day differences’ between these countries and our country are invaluable,” they added.
They underlined the German example of limiting the spread of COVID-19, asking for the introduction of similar measures in Turkey as soon as possible. The first among such measures would be the need for more testing. There has been an exponential increase in the number of daily tests, and by March 29, this number had reached 10,000.

Looking back, it is apparent that the Health Ministry was late in increasing the number of tests as it insisted early last month on only conducting tests at one center in Ankara. The decision to increase the number of laboratories to conduct tests only came several days after the first case was confirmed, and since then, the number has only grown gradually. Turkey is now trying to play catch-up, with the number of tests conducted on March 30 totaling more than 15,000.

So we can see action taken on that front, but doctors seem to suggest there is more to be done, especially as Germany is reportedly conducting 200,000 tests per day.

Their call for another measure, “to limit the movement of people,” is currently the most crucial one. Their statement suggests a call for a limited “curfew.” The most important factor in the spread of the outbreak is the “population on the move,” according to the doctors.

“Especially in cities with high patient density, measures to decrease the risk of contamination need to be strengthened. Everybody, regardless of age group, should be made to stay home for some time by the state while securing their present and future,” said the doctors.

A similar call was voiced by the Association of Public Health Specialists. “In light of epidemiological input, we think society’s movement should be restricted for some time by tighter measures to be implemented as soon as possible in order to ensure that those in the private sector stay home, apart from those doing essential work,” the association said, adding that movement should be forbidden if necessary.

The association added that the restrictions and bans could be implemented with a “social state” mentality that would avoid harming anybody, by endorsing regulations to safeguard the rights of the working class through things like a ban on firing personnel or encouraging people to take paid leave.

As medical experts have rightly observed, the current challenge is to keep the working class at home. It appears that some among the private sector, especially those in the manufacturing sector, have not slowed down business or taken measures to limit the movement of their workers. Istanbul, the economic center of the country, appears to be on the verge of giving alarm signals in terms of the number of patients. Moreover, it, most likely, stands to be the “super spreader” that exports the virus to the rest of the country.

One factor which seems to have worked against employers and employees is the misuse of masks and plastic gloves. People mistakenly believe that masks and gloves will protect them. Only recently have experts started to warn that wearing masks and gloves gives a false sense of confidence, noting that as long as people continue to touch everything with their gloves, they will not stop contamination. In fact, experts have said, people can even infect themselves if they do not know how to put on their masks and take them off in the correct manner.

As doctors have rightly emphasized, Turkey is lucky to take lessons from the examples of other countries. The challenge for Turkey is not about what to do, but about how to do it. A careful balance needs to be found between containing the spread of virus by keeping the known and unknown “spreaders” at home while minimizing the detrimental effects on the economy. The numbers, if they continue as they are, suggest that taking measures gradually in order to keep the economy going has started to increase the risks to people’s lives.

Given that a measure works only when introduced in a timely manner, let’s hope we won’t reach the stage where a total lockdown is seen as too little, too late.