Turkey’s daily COVID-19 cases fell below 1,000 for the first time in over a month with 992 new patients registered in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed Tuesday.
The new figures come amid a gradual “reopening” of businesses and eased restrictions such as weekend curfews and bans on intercity travel.
The country’s health authorities have repeatedly called on the public to follow three rules: the wearing of face masks, adhering to social distancing and remaining alert regarding personal hygiene, to ward off a new surge.
The outbreak made its foray into Turkey in early March, and thanks to strict measures, just short of a full lockdown, Turkey has steered clear of a high number of daily cases for a long time.
"We are below 1,000 again for the first time in 33 days. The number of new cases was 987 on June 11, but this increased to 1,195 the next day. We don't know what will happen tomorrow right now. All we know is that we will see the results of the measures we are taking in the next seven days," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted.
The country's coronavirus death toll increased by 20, reaching 5,402. The daily death toll has been fluctuating below 20 for a long time. Meanwhile, 1,049 more COVID-19 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 196,720.
Since originating in China last December, the pandemic has claimed over 577,000 lives in 188 countries and regions. More than 13.3 million cases have been reported worldwide, while over 7.79 million patients have recovered so far, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Turkey has two critical months ahead in the fight against the pandemic. Although temperatures have been relatively warmer in the past few autumns in Turkey, outdoor gatherings may be restricted again once the season arrives. Meanwhile, Qurban Bayram, or Eid al-Adha, lies ahead for the country. The Muslim feast day at the end of July for many traditionally marks an opportunity to travel to visit relatives or to head to vacation resorts, particularly in the southwestern regions.
Determined to keep the COVID-19 figures stable in the absence of a vaccine, authorities are considering taking restrictive measures in some cities during the holiday, though a nationwide curfew is out of the question, for now.
Controlled social measures were introduced in the early summer and have largely succeeded, yet examples of the public disregarding the wearing of masks and social distancing rules are still common in some cities.
Authorities warn that failure to comply with rules will mean keeping COVID-19 figures high. After the Bayram holiday, another challenge awaits Turkey. Though it is still uncertain, schools will likely open Aug. 31 with measures in place against the pandemic.
The Coronavirus Science Board, a Health Ministry task force, will discuss whether new measures are necessary over next week. Media reports say the board is mulling restrictions in some cities, except large ones such as the capital Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.
In other cities, the board will examine the COVID-19 figures of the past 15 days and calculate the number of expected visitors or those leaving for the upcoming holiday.
More citizens brought from abroad
Meanwhile, Turkey’s efforts to bring citizens home from around the world continue amid the pandemic. Four Turkish citizens who tested positive abroad were rushed to Turkey via air ambulance on Wednesday.
A Health Ministry plane took two men in their 50s, a 47-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy from Kyrgyzstan after they requested assistance from Turkey for treatment there. Three patients were taken to hospitals in the capital Ankara while another was taken to the southern Turkish province of Adana.
Turkey also delivered medical equipment aid to Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday to help the Central Asian nation in its fight against the pandemic. A Turkish Airlines (THY) plane brought ventilators, 150,000 masks, a large haul of personal protective equipment (PPE) and 10,000 boxes of hydroxychloroquine to Kyrgyzstan.
Since the pandemic swept the globe, Turkey has brought thousands of its citizens from abroad with specially allocated flights. It also provides free-of-charge air ambulance rides for Turkish expatriates infected with the coronavirus, wherever they live in the world.
Young doctors fight on
Throughout the course of the fight against the pandemic, survivors' experiences have served as both a dire warning and inspiration for the public. Burcu Ayvaz is one such example. The 29-year-old doctor was working at a medical unit at Istanbul Airport, yet was temporarily assigned to an airport in Samsun. Here, she was diagnosed with the coronavirus and took 35 days to recover from the illness, yet it was the mental strain the virus caused that was unrelenting.
Ayvaz visited a hospital on March 23 complaining of a headache, chest ache, muscle pains and loss to smell. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent one week at a hospital in Istanbul’s Sarıyer district. Later, she was discharged for self-isolation at home, under the supervision of health care staff.
“The symptoms were all there. I thought it was definitely COVID-19 before the test confirmed it,” she told Anadolu Agency (AA) Wednesday. “I felt goosebumps when I found out my test was positive. It is a sinister disease, and I was afraid it would advance in my lungs and damage them,” she said.
Ayvaz was admitted to a wing of the hospital where no visitors were allowed. “I was thinking what I’d do next. I didn’t know what would happen to me or how I could break the news to my family,” she recalled. “You might think you are young and have no history of any chronic disease, but you are wrong. I thought about dying when I was diagnosed. I don’t believe there is anyone who doesn't consider death when they find out they are infected with the coronavirus. You just try to block that thought,” she said.
Although discharged earlier than other patients, Ayvaz said the virus did not “die down” in her body. “I always had breathing problems and something like a pain in my heart. There was not a pain actually but I could feel my heart was beating faster. There was a time that I constantly had to track what was happening to my body, all the time,” she recounted.
For Ayvaz, it was “psychological warfare for 35 days.” “I tried to convince myself that I would recover, would be back to work and my family. I took five tests and the first ones were positive. I remember finding out my last test was negative and it was around 1:30 a.m. I remember crying for hours,” she said. After her recovery, Ayvaz donated her plasma to be used for complementary therapy for COVID-19 patients.