The daily number of coronavirus cases is on an upward trend nowadays and has reached the highest level in months, at more than 68,000 on Thursday. The uptick, which also steadily increases fatalities, is blamed on the fast-spreading omicron variant. Though authorities played down omicron’s impact on the state of pandemic, they are readying new measures just in case, as experts believe the number of cases may soon exceed 100,000.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca acknowledged the gravity of omicron cases in a statement earlier this week but highlighted that the hospitalization rate from omicron was not as high. The country had also reduced the quarantine period for people who tested positive to seven days from fourteen days this week.
As omicron cases multiply, authorities are considering a new road map in fighting the pandemic. No blanket restrictions are under consideration so far. Turkey had lifted almost all restrictions to curb the pandemic last summer, including curfews and lockdowns.
Among the planned measures in case of further surge in the cases are more inspections in crowded venues like shopping malls, theaters, restaurants and cafes on application of mandatory mask, social distancing and hygiene rules. Turkey had earlier barred access for the unvaccinated in such venues and more places may be included in the list of places where the unvaccinated will be banned or required to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Halving the capacity of crowded places like restaurants and cafes, a practice applied until summer 2021, may also be implemented.
Measures for schools are also under consideration. Schools were opened for in-person education last year but social media has flooded with messages in recent days with calls to authorities to switch to remote education amid the COVID-19 surge. Minister of National Education Mahmut Özer has repeatedly said that they were not planning to shut down the schools but authorities instead may prolong upcoming semester break instead.
Professor Deniz Odabaş, a member of Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, says Turkey would see the fallout from New Year celebrations next week and daily cases may surpass 100,000. During New Year celebrations, crowds poured into streets all across the country, prompting concerns on infections. Odabaş told Sabah newspaper on Thursday that the winter was a critical time for the pandemic but reiterated that omicron’s burden on the health care system was limited so far. “We see a higher risk of severe cases for the unvaccinated and those who missed their second doses. Fully vaccinated people do not need intensive care,” she said. Odabaş highlighted that antibodies drop three months after the second dose of vaccine, regardless of the type of the vaccine and urged the public to receive their third dose of the vaccine. “Omicron is not stronger than the delta variant in terms of worsening the infection’s severity, but it spreads faster,” she warned.
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