WHO envoy: Turkey’s approach is proactive
Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
Turkey has endorsed a rational approach against the novel coronavirus pandemic, being mindful of making sure the measures introduced do not harm the economy unnecessarily, according to Pavel Ursu, the World Health Organization (WHO) Turkey country representative.
“Turkey is doing in my view its best to confront this challenge. We see a strong logic in the measures applied,” Dr. Pavel Ursu has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
How do you see the current situation in Turkey?
The very first case was seen in Turkey two weeks ago and we consider Turkey to be at the early stage compared to other countries. It is progressing quite quickly, but in line with expected models; I think there is no surprise. Over the last several days, we are seeing that regardless of the number of the tests, we have more or less 8 to 10 percent positive cases.
Obviously, the testing strategy cannot be judged only based on a few days and it has been increasing. At this point in time, the figures the health minister is sharing are showing an increase compatible and consistent with the way of the spread.
There are criticisms that not enough tests are being done.
The WHO has a strong opinion that only people showing symptoms are recommended to be tested. We do not recommend testing asymptomatic people.
So, you seem to suggest that Turkey has taken the right steps so far?
We think the approach has been quite proactive and adaptive. This is a new virus and the Health Ministry is applying very regular revisions on the approach and adaptations as we go, and this is the normal way to react. Also, the entire machinery of the government is involved and it is exactly the approach which we are suggesting because the issues with which we are dealing are beyond the health system. We see all the ministries actively involved and making sure that it will not completely, too heavily affect the social and economic life of the country.
What do you see next? What will be the trend?
It all depends on the measures applied, and here consistency is very important. Turkish authorities are taking incremental measures to ensure social distancing and isolation which in fact is protecting the risk groups but also protecting the capacity of the health system.
Over the last days, we have seen a more or less stable picture in terms of the number of new cases. It is not progressing geometrically, so I think that some measures are already giving positive outcomes. But we need more time to see more results.
Currently, some argue that more tests need to be done, even to those who do not show symptoms in order to catch those who are carriers.
This is not what the WHO is thinking at this point in time. The WHO is suggesting for the contacts to ensure that they are immediately traced and quarantined for the duration of 14 days.
You don’t sound as if you would suggest a total lockdown.
We don’t have such a suggestion. They are done by (local) authorities based on risk assessment. And the total shutdown is not an answer to everything. Even with total lockdown as some countries have done, we have not seen an immediate and positive effect.
In addition to social distancing, isolation, which are defensive passive mechanism, we need aggressive and strong actions on containment. Every single case tested positive has to be immediately isolated and treated and every single contact has to be identified and quarantined, and monitored and in this way, we are attacking the virus in addition to relying on measures designed to delay the spread.
We believe taking action in both pillars would be the best approach and we know Turkey is applying both of them.
You said a total lockdown has not worked in some cases, but countries with success stories are believed to be the ones introducing draconian measures.
There are more variables involved. Total shutdown, draconian measures have a very high cost on the economy and social life.
Limitation of economic activities are also hampering extremely hard the country from an economic perspective; we have to balance. We do not want to put the country in an economic crisis in the long run. We need to apply a rational approach.
Based on risk assessment, we have seen more measures gradually applied and if the country (Turkey) will show a stable pattern and capacity of the health system to cope, there will be no need for a total shutdown.
Turkey, being a country with a strong health system, is doing in my view its best to confront this challenge. We see a strong logic in the measures applied.