With the start of 2021 and the hope that life will soon return to normal after a harrowing year since the dreaded novel coronavirus was first detected, unfortunately, we find ourselves faced with new challenges and in some cases even tighter restrictions. The new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus being detected last month has meant many new and resurfacing international flight restrictions and even more holiday plans disrupted. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the daily caseload appears to be significantly dropping in Turkey as a result of weekend lockdowns and certain socializing restrictions, which means that an end may very well be in sight. There is even talk of ease on curfews in the month to come. But, right now we are still in the thick of it, so I wanted to share an expat's personal story of catching COVID-19 in Turkey and provide a round-up of the current situation on arrival measures to curb the further spread of COVID-19.
Turkey has established a well-oiled system of providing testing and health care and tracking and tracing with the Hayat Eve Sığar (Life Fits into Home) or HES app, which was developed by the Health Ministry and offers users a unique code based on the their personal health records. Several regional expat Facebook groups have been sharing information and updates but one of the most indispensable Facebook groups for pandemic updates related to Turkey for English-speakers has been Coronavirus Turkey - UK information. In addition to providing daily tallies of cases contracted as well as translation of news updates, there is also a system in place to request specific HES maps and to share verified information regarding COVID-19.
Unfortunately, last month the founder of the group herself contracted COVID-19 along with her husband, but fortunately, they have near fully-recovered and she was willing to recount her experience with the members of her group and for this column.
Originally from West Sussex, England, Denise Atkins is now a resident in Yeşil Üzümlü village in Fethiye, southwestern Turkey's Muğla province. She founded the group to share info when the pandemic first started and said she never imagined it would become so big and had local friends come on board to help, including a native Turkish speaker.
As for catching COVID-19, Denise explains that it was on Dec. 1, when her husband began feeling under the weather with sinus issues, a headache and aches in his legs and hips. As these were not the most prominent symptoms correlated with COVID-19, at first they didn't consider a connection. Denise herself began to feel symptoms a week later with a day of sneezing and blocked sinuses, followed by the telltale loss of sense of smell and taste. So, Denise got tested at the Fethiye State Hospital and due to being an occasional asthma sufferer, the hospital insisted on taking a tomography X-ray and additional blood test, which came up clear.
As a patient having tested positive, Denise was given the medication Favipiravir, which she said was to support lung function and reduce the length of illness. "This is not happening in the U.K." Denise pointed out. "My brother has a heart condition and tested SARS-CoV-2 positive and was not offered any sort of check-up or follow-up after testing positive."
Denise said she has no idea how they caught COVID-19, but said it was possibly from someone asymptomatic, and added, "We do our usual shopping a couple of times a week, always wear a mask and use sanitizer." When Denise went to the hospital for testing she brought along someone who could translate. When she tested positive, the translator was then also required to quarantine at home for 10 days to see if he developed any symptoms, which he didn't. The local gendarmerie paid visits to ensure he was adhering to the rules. A medical team in full Hazmat suits also visited the Atkins couple in their home, Denise shared, adding that she didn't have the state health insurance offered by Turkey's Social Security Institution (SGK) and thus overall was charged TL 100 ($13.43) for the test and TL 170 for the chest x-ray and blood work and incurred no other charges for the medication provided and follow-up.
"The health care was excellent," explained Denise, going on to state, "the fact that they wanted to do an x-ray to double-check puts your mind at rest as stress can also lower the immune system. I would like to add that overall I am very impressed with the Turkish care, check-ups and follow-ups and the HES app," she added.
It has been four weeks since she was diagnosed and Denise says she and her husband are both well now and back to walking dogs and gardening. Sometimes her husband can feel a bit tired, Denise said, adding that she has still not fully regained her sense of smell and taste, but it is coming back slowly. She wanted to share her story because neither she nor her husband had the traditional high temperature and coughing symptoms related to COVID-19 and "if it helps anyone or takes away any fear that can only be good."
As it stands, the new variant, which was first found in Britain and has now spread to 45 countries, Turkey included, resulting in a variety of new flight and arrival regulations. While evacuation flights continue for U.K. citizens to fly out of Turkey, direct flights from the U.K. to Turkey have now been halted. Passengers can fly out of England to Turkey via third-party countries, however, upon arrival, there is now a mandatory 14-day quarantine period required in addition to providing a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before flying. The mandatory quarantine is required for anyone who has been in the U.K. within the past 10 days before travel and involves spending a total of two weeks at a facility designated by the governorship at the port of entry. This means that if you were flying to Bodrum through a connecting flight from Istanbul, you would be required to quarantine at an undisclosed facility in Istanbul.
According to recounts from fellow expats, who have or are currently undergoing the quarantine process, the facilities seem to predominantly be dormitories, with private rooms for individuals or families. For the most part, these rooms have multiple beds, chairs, desks and a restroom and showering facilities as well as Wi-Fi.
However, keep in mind these facilities may not have additional amenities such as a television or kettle. Three meals are provided a day and if accessible it seems food can be ordered in. In the accommodation in Turkey, there are also windows that open, which is a plus as in comparison to the quarantine process in Australia, where people are spending the duration in hotels with rooms without balconies and windows that do not open, this has been a source of mental distress for some and has even led to escape attempts.
The bottom-line is like the variant, these requirements are recent developments and Turkey like many countries has had to adapt quickly to curb the variant strain of COVID-19 from spreading. Having to quarantine anywhere is not pleasant and ideally should deter people from international travel in stricken countries unless absolutely necessary.
Arrivals from Denmark and South Africa, where flights are also limited to Turkish citizens, blue card holders and residents, are now, in addition to providing a negative PCR test, required to quarantine at home for seven days after which they will be retested.