The number of recoveries has increased and fatalities have dropped in Turkey, which has been battling the coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures indicate that, with the current trend, the daily death toll may drop to zero soon. Still, strict measures remain in place while some are being eased, such as a temporary exclusion from curfew for citizens age 65 and above who are in the high-risk group.
The country reported a drop in its new daily COVID-19 cases to below 1,000 on Wednesday with 972 new cases over the last 24 hours, a solid success in the fight against the outbreak, while the daily death toll rose by 23 to 4,222. The number of patients recovering from the disease increased to 113,987.
If new daily cases fall below 1,000, it means Turkey is becoming successful in its fight against the coronavirus, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
The Turkish public largely adhered to preventive measures against the coronavirus, Koca told a news conference following a meeting with his ministry’s Coronavirus Science Board on Wednesday.
"The world does not yet know when the outbreak will end. But in Turkey, we have seen the results of our measures," the minister noted. "Turkey succeeded in the first phase of the fight against the coronavirus; it will succeed in this phase as well."
Turkey has been reporting a continued downward trajectory in COVID-19 deaths and confirmed infections in recent days.
Turkey is not facing the risk of a second wave of infections from the new coronavirus at the moment, Koca said, adding that Ankara was preparing to start what he called controlled health tourism with 31 countries as of Wednesday. He added that charter flights may be arranged depending on demand.
As of Thursday, Turkish businesses will receive posters listing the rules to be followed to minimize the risk of spreading the infection, the minister said.
Traveling by code
"The mobile app by the Health Ministry will be used to track intercity travel," Koca said, referring to Hayat Eve Sığar, or Life Fits Home, app that shows risky areas and violations of social distancing using Bluetooth technology.
Citizens will be able to board planes and trains within Turkey after using the code from the app to show that they are not sick or carrying the virus. The code will be available nationwide when travel bans between big cities are lifted. It will be this “coronavirus” ID, so to speak, that will make citizens eligible for travel. They are required to share the code with travel companies, and thereby, companies will be able to inquire whether the passenger poses a COVID-19 risk. The government plans to introduce the code for other uses as well, such as for visiting certain areas or offices. Turkey already has a digital health care system called e-nabız in place. It records all of the citizens' doctor visits, prescriptions and similar medical information, allowing doctors to easily track down the medical history of patients.
The Life Fits at Home app also allows citizens to grade places based on their compliance with measures against the coronavirus, such as observing social distancing.
Turkey has also decided to ease restrictions for citizens age 65 and above. They have been confined to home for two months after an exclusive curfew was imposed. In the past two weeks, they were allowed to go out for a few hours while a curfew was in place for younger citizens. Now, they will be allowed to leave for their hometowns if they live elsewhere. A new regulation by the Interior Ministry allows them to travel from one city to another in the company of a younger relative, their children or an acquaintance, but they will be allowed to stay in that city only for the next 30 days and will be subject to curfew there as well.
Koca said the Turkish government is also planning to test passengers coming from abroad at airports and on land borders.
A plan for reopening cafes and restaurants in the country will soon be shared with the public, Koca added.
Turkey has opted for partial lockdowns, contact tracing and early treatment in combating the coronavirus. It has imposed lockdowns across major cities over the past five weekends, as well as on national holidays, in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday he hoped the upcoming nationwide lockdown during the Muslim holiday Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, on May 23-26 would be the final round.
Referring to the curfew order during the Bayram holiday, Koca said, "if we take precautions now, we will reap its benefits later on."
"We don't know how long the fight with the virus will continue, so we are planning life around the measures," Koca said.
Turkey usually celebrates the holiday, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, over three days. This year's holiday period is scheduled to fall on May 24-26.
Masks until 2021
Turkish citizens may have to wear face masks for protection at least until early 2021, according to an expert. Professor Levent Yamanel, a member of the country’s Coronavirus Science Board, a task force fighting the pandemic, said people have to get accustomed to the “new normal.”
“Unless there is a global immunity, we have to follow certain rules, such as avoiding crowds, wearing masks, minding social distance and be careful about hygiene,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) Thursday. “Until a vaccine or an efficient drug against coronavirus is discovered, we have to wear masks, and the nearest time possible for those seems early 2021,” he said.
Professor Pınar Okyay, another member of the board, said Turkey had 15 days ahead, referring to the extension of travel bans and other restrictions, and this period will be key to a further drop in cases. “If people heed the recommendations and comply with rules, if we can pursue effective tracing efforts to find out who came in contact with new COVID-19 cases, we will see a decline in the pandemic,” she told Anadolu Agency (AA) Thursday.
Pointing out recent clusters of cases in certain regions, Okyay called on people to avoid attending crowded events like mass dinners and wedding parties. Dozens were diagnosed with COVID-19 in several cities after they defied authorities’ advice on social distancing and attended mass dinners to break the fast during Ramadan. Coronavirus cases were also reported at other events, such as a party to celebrate the engagement of a couple and people visiting the family of a deceased man to offer condolences.
Okyay warned that the danger is not exclusive to big cities like Istanbul and Ankara but also smaller cities in Anatolia. She noted that there was “seasonal mobility” there such as people heading to fields for harvest or cultivation, people traveling to the famed highlands of the Black Sea region and those heading to coastal towns where they have summer residences. “The pandemic has the risk of spreading to Anatolian regions which have been well protected against the virus so far. We need regional risk management and cooperation from citizens,” she said.
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