Istanbul as the epicenter of Turkey’s COVID-19 outbreak
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who is leading a 25-member Science Board tasked with tackling the coronavirus, on the April 1 provided a detailed picture of the spread of the outbreak across the country for the first time since Turkey detected the first case on March 11.
According to the information he provided, Istanbul, with a population of around 16 million, appears as the epicenter of the pandemic in Turkey as around 60 percent of the cases were spotted in the country’s largest metropole. As of April 1, Istanbul recorded 8.852 cases and 117 deaths from the coronavirus.
In an interview on the same day, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu explained that the government has already been aware of the fact that Istanbul hosts more than 50 percent of the cases and taken measures accordingly.
“The city that we’ve been paying the most attention to is Istanbul. The city our president says special precautions should be taken in is Istanbul. [The outbreak] started with China, Iran and then Europe. Istanbul is very intertwined with Europe,” he said.
Home to the one of the world’s largest airports functioning as a regional connection hub, Istanbul has obviously imported the virus from Europe but at the same time exported it to the rest of the Anatolia.
For example, tens of thousands of university students had to return home in different parts of the Anatolia after the universities were suspended on March 12. Many families, feeling unsafe in Istanbul, have also returned to their hometowns before intercity travels were banned.
The measures imposed by the government, however, are not considered sufficient for stopping the spread of the virus in Turkey and particularly Istanbul. Under current conditions, a curfew is in place for those over 65 years of age and those with chronic diseases. Otherwise, a voluntary stay-at-home campaign is being run.
Although the city’s historical and touristic spots are empty and people are not allowed to enjoy the waterside, social and economic life continues to flow in particularly low-income districts of the city. Factories are open and transportation between Istanbul and business districts continues without stop, carrying tens of thousands of people to work every day. According to Soylu, life has stopped around 80 percent in Istanbul when considering the flow of traffic.
Even this figure has proven to be right, it means at least 3.2 million residents in Istanbul are on the streets, actively working and getting socialized with other people. Obviously, it’s still a big number and posing a continued threat to the further spread of the coronavirus.
As the city is now the epicenter of the pandemic, it would be no surprise to see intensified measures in Istanbul to avoid the contamination of more people. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already signaled the imposition of inner-city traffic should sitting safeguards do not curb the spread of the coronavirus.
As the country’s financial center, any action concerning Istanbul will surely have an impact on Turkey’s economic and social life. However, given the surge of the pandemic, any delay in taking necessary actions would worsen the already worrying picture.