As Turkey continues its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with rising vaccination numbers, an expert said that he expects the number of deaths to decrease gradually amid predictions coronavirus cases will drop toward the end of this month.
Professor Mustafa Necmi Ilhan, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, said the number of COVID-19 cases in Istanbul has started to decrease. “I think there may be a downward trend in Anatolia as well. Cases may drop toward the end of this month. I expect the deaths to decrease gradually," he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Monday.
Pointing out that the cases in Istanbul have decreased significantly, Ilhan said: "The alpha variant first started in Istanbul. The population is larger, living conditions are more crowded, (the city is) more open to external influences. At the moment, the case numbers in Istanbul have dropped. In Ankara, they are at a certain level, maybe it will come back down soon,” he said.
“About one to two months after the cases drop, we witness that the number of deaths decreases more rapidly. On average, the number of our citizens who usually die is at the level of 250, unfortunately, we saw 300 deaths," he added.
Stating that citizens who choose not to be vaccinated and not to comply with the rules, thinking that the omicron variant is mild, are mistaken, Ilhan said: "The deceased are mostly over the age of 65, have chronic diseases, are unvaccinated or have not completed their vaccination. If we lived in an unvaccinated society with such high cases, the death toll would have gone even higher.”
“Of course, because the probability of infection increases more, there may be those who are unintentionally infected, those who have a severe illness and those who die. The level of antibody formation is not at the same level for every person, especially when we consider that there are citizens who do not have the third dose. It should be said that the effect (of the vaccine) on people is not the same,” said Ilhan, pointing out that the risk for society increases since the omicron variant is more contagious.
Speaking about the antiviral COVID-19 drug Molnupiravir, now being used for patients over 65 years of age and high-risk people over the age of 18, Ilhan said: "A new drug has come into play in our country. This is a very pleasing development. But let's say that, beyond getting the coronavirus disease and being treated, it is much more important not to catch the coronavirus at all, and it is very important to be vaccinated in order not to catch it."
“The fact that a new drug has been developed is really a huge advantage. Thus, I believe that an advantageous situation may arise so that those who contract the infection do not lose their lives and do not become seriously ill,” he added.
Ilhan also said Sunday that in some countries, several practices that can help protect society have been implemented.
"In my personal opinion, people can protect both themselves and other people by wearing masks in crowded places, such as public transportation, cinemas and theaters. Besides, people seem to be able to walk around without a mask in less crowded places. Of course, it would be more accurate to see the numbers and the trend and evaluate accordingly," he added.
“At the current stage, considering that the vaccination campaign continues to see a rising number of jabs and people have learned to fight against the coronavirus, the mask mandate may be lifted in enclosed spaces – provided that care is taken,” Ilhan said, pointing out that some experts say masks need not be worn in open areas, especially for vaccinated individuals.
Speaking about whether places will be flexible where entry without a mask is prohibited with the increase of full dose vaccination, Ilhan said: "It may change according to the conditions, but I think that the process will be more relaxed by summer. Indoor places are more ventilated in the summer. Also, we do not stay in closed spaces for long. It is possible to say that this will also contribute to the process and that masks will not need to be worn in open areas."
The Health Ministry reported 70,355 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the lowest single-day count of COVID-19 cases in one month.
According to a chart shared by the Health Ministry, 263 people lost their lives and 91,164 others recovered from the disease over the past day. Also, as many as 440,183 virus tests were done nationwide in the past 24 hours.
To counter the spread of the virus, Turkey has administered over 144.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since it launched an immunization drive in January 2021.
More than 57.6 million people have received a first vaccine jab, while over 52.7 million have been fully vaccinated. Third booster shots have been given to more than 26.6 million people.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on his social media account that the main struggle against the omicron variant is to protect the lives of those in the risk group.
"We have to come out of this struggle successfully with the measures taken, the support of vaccination and treatment, and the attention each of us will show to those in this group," he added.
Since December 2019, the virus has claimed over 5.88 million lives in at least 192 countries and regions, with over 423.6 million cases reported worldwide, according to the U.S.' Johns Hopkins University.