Turkish tourism season opens amid ‘Delta’ concerns
Turkey observed its last weekend curfew this Sunday in line with the government’s decision to ease the restrictions following a decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases and a drastic intensification of the vaccination process.
As of yesterday, approximately more than 32 million people have received their first dose of the anti-coronavirus vaccine, while 15 million Turks have been fully inoculated. The vaccination eligibility age was lowered to 18 last week in a move to further accelerate the vaccination campaign with the objective of protecting at least 70 percent of the society until the end of the summer. In the meantime, Turkey registers around 5,000 new coronavirus cases and 50 deaths every day.
This positive trend has led many countries to either lift or ease their travel restrictions to Turkey. Russia lifted the restrictions as of June 22 and paved the way for thousands of Russian tourists to flock to Turkey’s resorts. France moved Turkey from red to amber on its travel list, meaning that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now enter France without an essential reason.
Germany has already announced Turkey as a normal risk country, flourishing hopes for the return of German tourists this summer. However, the United Kingdom still keeps Turkey on the red list due to its continued concerns over the spread of the Delta variant. Turkey hopes that the British government will reassess the situation in the coming weeks.
It’s essential that Turkey receives more tourists this summer in a bid to recoup tourism losses. Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy predicted that around 25 million tourists would bring in around $20 billion this summer, with Russia being the country sending most tourists, followed by Germany in the second place and Ukraine in the third place.
From the public health perspective, however, this picture is creating concerns. Russia and Germany are among the top 10 nations that have been worst affected by the Delta variant, which was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. Russia is recording around 20,000 daily new coronavirus cases, with a good majority of them infected by the Delta Variant.
Germany announced that the number of COVID-19 infections caused by the Delta variant doubled in a week in the country. The United States and the U.K. are hit most by this variant, while France, Portugal, Israel, Italy, Ireland and Denmark are also on the list. The Delta variant was first spotted in India and spread out to the world from there. Turkey and many other countries are imposing compulsory 14-day quarantine to travelers coming from India.
However, those arriving from Russia or other countries where the Delta variant has worsened the situation are not subject to quarantine. A certificate with a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 72 hours (RT-PCR) or at most 48 hours (antigen) before entering Turkey is required for passengers flying from Russia as well as many other countries. Plus, those who can present a standard government COVID-19 vaccination certificate carried out at least 14 days prior to their arrival in Turkey are not required to have a negative PCR test.
Public health experts urge a heightened set of measures against those who arrive from the risk countries in a bid not to spoil Turkey’s ongoing normalization process. “The tourism period slightly increases this risk. While many countries set limits on entry and exit, we try to make them easier. We need tourists, but on the other hand, there is the problem of the Delta variant,” Professor Mehmet Ceyhan, an infectious diseases physician, was quoted as saying by the Demirören News Agency last week.
While speaking to daily Milliyet over the weekend, Professor Mustafa Çetiner emphasized that it wasn’t just enough to get the result of the PCR test prior to entering Turkey for those coming from Russia.“Virus variants that come out of places where the transmission is very high are hitting countries like the U.K. which says it was very successful in this fight,” against the pandemic, Çetiner said, adding it would not be a surprise to observe a speedy spread of Delta variant by Russian tourists if they were allowed in the country without efficient measures.