As the coronavirus scare prevails in Iran, the country has turned to its western neighbor, Turkey. “'Please don’t come; let’s talk on Skype,' we told them,” Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, referring to Iranian health authorities’ request to meet with their Turkish counterparts on the issue.
Koca, quoted by Hürriyet newspaper on Wednesday, said the outbreak spread fast in Iran, and Turkish authorities recommended Tehran impose a lockdown in Qom, the city where the first case was reported. “But they said there was no need for a lockdown. Now, it has become a serious matter, and they sought our assistance on what steps to take to fight the virus. They wanted to send a delegation here to meet our Science Board, but we told them not to come and instead, to hold talks on Skype,” Koca said. Turkey has been on alert since the virus, also known as COVID-19, started spreading after the first reports in China’s Wuhan. Although China now reports a decline in cases, Iran is among countries reporting more cases each day. So far, 92 people have died of the new coronavirus in the country, while the number of infected people is now more than 2,900.
The health minister’s comments come days after Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, who has been in the spotlight to reassure the public on the virus outbreak, announced he was infected with the virus as well. Dozens of Iranian officials, including 23 lawmakers and a vice president, were also infected with the virus. On Wednesday, media outlets reported that the country’s industry, mining and trade minister, Reza Rahmani, tested positive for the virus.
Koca said along with Iran, nine countries sought assistance from Turkey in fight against the coronavirus outbreak. "We will start sharing our experience and knowledge about measures against the virus with other countries starting Wednesday," Koca told reporters.
Turkey has already taken measures before the WHO declared an emergency on the issue. It set up a science board and a task force monitoring the developments regarding the virus. It also designated some hospitals as specialized hospitals for quarantine measures. As Iran reported cases, Turkey shut down land borders with it and canceled flights. Authorities also called upon those who have been to Iran, China, Italy, Iraq and South Korea in the past 14 days to isolate themselves and avoid contact with other people as much as possible. Those people will be allowed to have paid leave. So far, at least 940 suspicious cases were reported in Turkey, but none tested positive for coronavirus.
MASK EXPORTS REGULATED
Face mask sales have surged across the globe due to overwhelming demand amid the coronavirus scare. A steep hike in prices led the government to crack down on sellers while mask exports will be required by the Trade Ministry to have a permit.
Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said Wednesday that the Board of Advertising imposed fines on nine companies for unfair price hikes. “The board examined nine companies and decided to hand down a fine of TL 104,781 ($17,215) each. We will continue examining prices, and repeat offenders will have to pay 10 times higher than the first fine they received,” she warned.
While it remains dubious whether the face masks provide protection from the deadly virus, Turkey has seen a boom in sales. Media reports say new companies flourish in the sector, and as the outbreak spread to Turkey’s neighbor Iran, prices dramatically rose. Some online sellers raised mask prices to TL 450 ($74) from TL 20 ($3.29) in a few weeks. Media outlets also point to an increase in unsafe masks sold illegally but for cheaper prices.
Pekcan said the ministry has received complaints about astronomical hikes in prices of masks and other medical equipment following the virus outbreak abroad. She asked the public to lodge complaints by calling the country's consumer hotline at 175.
Exporters are also required to apply for a preliminary permit from the ministry for mask exports, beginning Wednesday, Pekcan said. “We have no cases here, but we see new cases in our neighboring countries, in our region. As a measure, we decided to make export permits mandatory. The purpose here is to be able to meet the public demand in Turkey in case of an outbreak in our country. We need to manage the demand,” she said.
Pekcan noted that there was a 70% increase in mask sales in February. “Mask production in Turkey can meet the local demand, but we see a growing global demand. We don’t want to prevent exports, but we seek to prioritize the local demand,” she told reporters.