Things are looking bright for Turkey, which has long been embattled with a surge in coronavirus cases. A string of restrictions imposed in the autumn paid off: almost a 70% drop in the number of cases are in Istanbul, the country’s most populated city, which was also a hotbed of cases for months since March when the outbreak emerged in Turkey.
The burden of the coronavirus is expected to further ease by the end of next month thanks to factors like increasing immunity in the public and the highly anticipated arrival of vaccines. This, in turn, will likely lead to the loosening of some restrictions.
Big cities like Istanbul, the capital Ankara and western Izmir have appeared to rein in the increase in cases. Smaller cities in Anatolia correspond to around a 10% to 15% drop in cases in the country. Authorities are relying on a further decline in those smaller cities to ease the workload on medical facilities. One concern is that some cities have yet to reach their case “peak.”
It is predicted that the public’s immunity to the virus has reached somewhere around 50% in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and some other cities including Kocaeli and Bursa. The immunity rate will improve with the start of mass vaccinations. The decline in the cases, however, does not apply to deaths yet. Daily fatalities are still high, but forecasts show deaths per day will decrease below 200 in the first two weeks of January. The month will be a highlight in the struggle against the outbreak. If vaccinations go according to plans, authorities will mull gradually lifting the restrictions. Experts warn that the removal of restrictions should wait for at least one month after the vaccinations start. Then, a normalization process similar to the one implemented in June can be brought back in February.
Authorities are planning a step-by-step approach to normalization based on trends in the pandemic. Nevertheless, basic rules such as mandatory masks, social distancing and hygiene will remain in force even if restrictions are lifted. Those who violate the rules are subject to fines.
The number of “active” cases and critical patients almost halved in the past 10 days. Active cases refer to the number of cases calculated by subtracting recovered and deceased patients from the total number of cases. They dropped to 105,207 as of Monday, from more than 207,000 on Dec. 19. The number of critically ill patients decreased to 4,251 from 5,501 in the same period. The daily number of patients also saw a 42% decline.
Since March 11, the date when the first COVID-19 case was reported in Turkey, more than 2.1 million people have been diagnosed with the disease as a result of more than 23 million tests. Some 20,135 people have died and more than 2 million people recovered. In other words, only 9% of those tested were positive patients. Fatalities were around 1% in proportion to the total number of cases since March while recoveries reached as high as 94.2% of total cases.
The country started imposing a series of restrictions after the first cases, including curfews, closure of businesses and schools, and mandatory masks. A sudden drop in the cases motivated authorities to roll out “normalization” in June. Restrictions were almost entirely lifted by July. A brief lull in the outbreak followed, but the situation worsened again in the autumn. By November, the country was forced to reintroduce restrictions, including a weekend curfew, that were later expanded to a weekday nighttime curfew and a 56-hour lockdown from late Friday to early Monday every week. Schools, reopened in September, were shut down again, while senior citizens and children were subjected to a complete curfew, except for a few hours during the day.
The government also recently announced a four-day curfew, with similar conditions as weekend curfews, for the New Year's weekend. It will start on New Year’s Eve, and authorities aim to curb crowding for expected parties.
Associate professor Afşin Emre Kayıpmaz, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, which advises on measures against the outbreak, says the new year is a “critical threshold” in the outbreak. “Just like any other holiday, we recommend not gathering for celebrations. You should not go out and should not host or attend parties inside residences,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Tuesday. Kayıpmaz acknowledged the impact of closures and restrictions on the pandemic and confirmed the significant decline in the cases. “It is still early to think about lifting restrictions but a lockdown for New Year's will definitely have an important impact (for a decrease in the number of cases). People should be careful to adhere to measures. Even if we remain at home, we should not meet with neighbors, relatives or friends. Any get-together is bound to create new infections. It provides fertile ground for the virus,” he warned, pointing out that the longer a person spends time without a mask in the company of others, the bigger the possibility of infection. “Spend time with your family, your pets,” he advised. “One infected person among 10 others is a risk. Even if others who may be infected by him or her can survive, they can infect others who might end up dead,” he added.