Turkey will mark its second year of battling the coronavirus pandemic next month. Since the first cases were reported in March 2020, the country has come a long way in the fight against the virus. However, it does not appear to be going away any time soon in light of the omicron variant. The variant, which spreads faster than earlier strains, triggered a substantial rise in the number of cases, something evident in the latest figures of seven-day incidence per 100,000 people. Istanbul, the capital of Ankara and the third-largest city Izmir reported a rise in the cases between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4.
On the other hand, a new poll shows the pandemic no longer dominates the public agenda, with people not as worried about omicron as they were about the pandemic in the past. Their belief is cemented in authorities’ reassurances that omicron, though deadly for people in high-risk groups, does not cause more hospitalizations.
The Health Ministry shared the latest weekly figures on 81 provinces on Monday, revealing the average number of cases per 100,000 people stood at around 894 in Istanbul, the country’s most crowded city. This figure was about 1,279 for Ankara and 1,229 for Izmir. Izmir, in particular, has the highest rise among the three, from 961 in the week preceding Jan. 29. For Ankara, the number is about 200 cases higher than the previous period, while Istanbul reported a rise of only five cases compared to the same period.
The top 10 provinces with sharpest rise are Samsun, Tokat, Ordu, Uşak, Artvin, Giresun, Karabük, Amasya, Çorum and Adana. Most are located in the Black Sea region, which has been a pandemic hot spot since last year.
Yet, the northwestern province of Kırklareli clings to the unenviable top spot as the province with the highest weekly number of cases per 100,000 since last month. Kırklareli has the highest incidence rate, at 1,489 per 100,000, compared to 1,214 in the preceding week. Kırklareli is ahead of Giresun and Rize, two Black Sea provinces that reported around 1,350 cases per 100,000. Van in the east had the lowest number of cases, at around 105, ahead of Antalya with 136 cases.
On the other hand, Turkey has seen a gradual decline in the number of daily cases, which exceeded 100,000 recently, the highest since the onset of the pandemic, in the past few weeks. On Sunday, 73,787 people tested positive, while 276 people died of the coronavirus. Fatalities are higher than usual, but most are senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses, according to experts.
Authorities have repeatedly called on the public to get their missing shots as the vaccination campaign remains the only option for protection against infections after Turkey lifted most of the pandemic-related restrictions. Since the vaccination program was launched in January 2021, Turkey has administered more than 144 million doses, while more than 52 million people had their two doses of vaccines. Another 26.1 million people have now had their third shots.
With the changing course of the pandemic with the omicron variant, the Turkish public’s mindset regarding the virus is also changing, a survey conducted by the polling company Ipsos shows. The survey, whose results were published by the Milliyet newspaper on Monday, points out that while people may be less worried about the pandemic, the public's opinion could be related to uncertainty. Still, people are not as afraid of the omicron variant as they were about earlier strains, namely, delta, which once dominated the cases. The rate of people who believe that omicron is as dangerous as other variants was only 48%, according to the survey conducted on Feb. 8 and Feb. 11. Another 64% of interviewed people say they fear infection with the new variant. Though people are still scared of infections, 32% of them say their level of concern did not change after the country reported a record number of daily cases. Overall, eight out of every 10 people are concerned about the pandemic.
Some 57% of people believe that mass inoculation is needed for the pandemic to end. People also overwhelmingly believe that the unvaccinated will have more severe symptoms than people who have been vaccinated if they catch omicron.
Professor Tevfik Özlü, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, echoes the sentiment on the evolution of the coronavirus. “The virus still infects, but it is more manageable now. It appears it will be an ordinary disease,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Monday. Özlü said Turkey may face a burden on its health care if the number of cases further increases, and it is preventable only if people comply with personal protection measures, like wearing protective masks and adhering to social distancing and hygiene rules. “Still, we are stronger in the face of the pandemic, unlike the past. We hope the virus will be as mild as the flu,” he said. “But we are not at this point yet. Fatalities are still 20 times higher than fatalities from flu,” he added.
Professor Serap Şimşek Yavuz, another member of the board, said the omicron wave has not peaked in Turkey yet, although the rate of positive tests in Istanbul, for instance, dropped to around 20% from 30%. “Current projections, based on the trend of cases, show that the pandemic will peak by mid-March,” she told DHA.