Protective masks that adorn the faces of millions may be history soon, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says. The minister who helms the country’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak on Friday tried to instill hope in a public weary of months of restrictions and measures. “We yearn for the days we will breathe freely again. Masks will not be in our lives soon. There are great developments in vaccine work. Let’s wait for the results,” he tweeted. In the meantime, he called on the public to properly wear masks everywhere except at home and thanked the nation “for patience.”
Wearing masks is mandatory across Turkey which has experienced a surge in the number of patients recently. Although it loosened restrictions on daily life and kicked off a “normalization” process last summer, the country follows a careful path to recovery with what authorities call “controlled social life.” Social distancing is strictly enforced with daily inspections while authorities gradually introduce new bans based on upward trends in the number of patients.
Turkey currently has more than 404,000 patients, far higher than recoveries which stands at 346,794. Fatalities exceeded 11,233 while the number of tests reached more than 15.7 million since the outbreak was first reported in the country in March. Smoking in crowded outdoor public places was banned starting from Thursday to slow the recent surge in infections, as part of the latest measures.
Koca’s statements came in the wake of promising developments in vaccine studies. Turkey started human trials of its own locally made vaccine while Chinese and U.S.-German vaccines are being tested on volunteers for phase 3 trials. The minister on Thursday held a phone call with professor Uğur Şahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, two Turkish-German scientists behind the U.S.-German vaccine which was found to be more than 90% effective against COVID-19.
Vigilance on masks
Turkey eyes 2021 for widespread use of a vaccine, but until then, it relies on masks and social distancing to stave off more infections. A new study on mask-wearing has found that most people are vigilant about protecting themselves and are taking extra precautionary measures.
A total of 2,553 people from 79 provinces took part in the online research study published Thursday, which focused on mask usage habits. Nearly half of the participants said they use their masks only for a few hours and then change them, while four out of 10 people use the same mask all day long, according to the Mask Usage Habits Report by Adgager, an Istanbul Technical University (ITÜ)-based new generation online research service. One out of three people using fabric masks, wash them daily and never reuse them before washing.
The research also revealed that the most preferred type of mask is a surgical mask, with 73% of the respondents or three out of four people using one.
They were followed by fabric masks (15%), while the usage ratio of other types of masks was low, with 5% preferring washable nano masks, 4% N95 masks, 2% FFP3 masks and 1% N99 masks.
As the life of surgical masks is short, sales of packages containing 20, 30 or 50 items have increased along with the consumption ratio. The report said the most popular option (58%) was 50-mask packages. The first place where consumers prefer to buy masks is pharmacies (35%), followed by markets (30%.) Around 67% of those wearing masks have common opinions about their protectiveness, with 27% of them saying they do not take off their masks regardless of what happens when they go out while 28% take their masks off while walking outdoors.
People take off their masks most often while "eating and/or drinking something," the report said.
Nine out of 10 people wearing masks consider those who do not wear masks "incautious," increasing the health concerns of other people as well as risking others' lives.
Some 77% of the participants agreed that the current penalties and sanctions must be increased. Many respondents considered the precautions taken by workplaces and others around them insufficient.
The report shows that 55% of the participants regard the precautions they are taking as sufficient, while only 6% think that others take enough precautions.
Three out of 10 people do not trust people at work or around them and are concerned that they do not take enough precautions. While some insist on normalization, others are concerned about the rising number of cases in the current situation. Eight out of 10 people said they are concerned by the increasing number of cases. Some 84% of the participants anticipate that the number of cases will rise further, leading to a second wave. Half of the participants noted that they will definitely get vaccinated when a vaccine for COVID-19 is found, according to the report.
Six out of 10 people anticipate that the pandemic will come to an end in a year or two.