Turkey unlikely to ease COVID-19 restrictions soon
As can be recalled, on July 29, 2020, the Turkish government shifted its methodology in disseminating daily coronavirus figures by merely reporting COVID-19 patients, differently from the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance that called on countries to register all the new cases, including asymptomatic ones.
After criticisms over the lack of transparency, the government reviewed its decision and started to report all the new cases starting from Nov. 25, 2020, a week after it imposed strict restrictions including weekend curfews and the closure of restaurants and cafes, and a return to online education for schools.
Turkey reported 7,381 COVID-19 patients on Nov. 24 and 29,132 new cases on Nov. 26, displaying a drastic difference in terms of convincing the public opinion about how serious the pandemic spread is in the country.
On Dec. 8, Turkey had a record high of 33,198 new cases and 211 deaths, proving how severe the second wave of the COVID-19 was hitting. The number of new cases started to decrease from Dec. 15 as a result of imposed restrictions and curfews. The daily number of deaths is still above 200 with expectations that it will also gradually drop.
On the first days of 2021, the average number of new coronavirus cases is around 11,000, three times less than the figures for early December. This has helped to reduce the occupancy rate of intensive care units especially in large cities and to bring the pandemic under control.
But public health experts continue to urge that these figures are still high and restrictions should not be mitigated, especially given the fact that a new variant of the virus – which was first detected in the U.K. – has also been spotted in Turkey.
Although the continued closure of cafés, restaurants, and bars effectively curbed the spread of the virus, experts recall public transportation continues to bear risk on public health. As working life and businesses continue to run, no effective solution could be found to reduce the intensity of public transportation means, particularly in Istanbul.
Under current conditions, there is no sign that the government will lift the restrictions in the coming weeks, although the food and entertainment sectors are pressing to get re-opened under certain conditions.
The government will re-assess the restrictions once the daily numbers will convincingly show that the risks on public health are at a minimum level. Another important aspect to this end is how the vaccination process will develop and whether there will be enough doses for 83 million nationals and five million refugees. Turkey’s expectation is to get its own vaccine ready by April and therefore smoothly handle the pandemic.
In the meantime, a return to schools will be evaluated in the first days of February as the second semester will start on Feb. 15, depending on the government’s performance in keeping the coronavirus under control.
As seen, restrictions that were imposed around seven weeks ago have resulted in a decrease in the spread of the virus, but the situation is still fragile. Thus, the government will likely hold the restrictions in place for more weeks to come to avoid a new surge.