Turkey's daily coronavirus death toll dropped to 15 for the first time in a month, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Tuesday. That brings the total number of fatalities from the disease to 5,645, Koca said.
A total of 963 people contracted COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 227,982 as of Tuesday evening.
Authorities also confirmed 1,092 more recoveries from the disease, bringing the tally to 211,561. Since Monday, more than 47,400 tests for the virus were conducted, raising the total count to over 4.66 million.
Turkey has switched to a new phase in the fight against the pandemic in June, launching a “normalization” process. Most restrictions related to the virus were lifted, but the country started enforcing strict measures in this “new normal” with fines and repeated warnings for those violating the rules like wearing protective masks and heeding social distancing and personal hygiene. Reopened businesses are required to ensure the safety of customers by monitoring social distancing and forcing customers to wear masks. Police also routinely patrol cities for people violating rules. The country has seen a dangerous trend of noncompliance with rules during the normalization, from overcrowded places in the absence of regular weekend curfews and people from places with a cluster of cases traveling to towns with low numbers of cases.
Still, without a vaccine and an effective drug, the end of the outbreak seems far-fetched. Professor Ateş Kara, a member of the Health Ministry's Coronavirus Science Board, says the first doses of a vaccine can be available in November if the trials from studies in other countries prove fruitful, but it can take a few months more for Turkey to have access to a possible vaccine. “I believe it will be in March or April to have the vaccine imports here,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Wednesday. Turkey is also working on the development of a vaccine and several studies already reached out to the animal trial phase. Kara said that the country was exerting efforts for access to a possible vaccine, but a November date is only possible if volunteers come forward to test the vaccine. Even with a vaccine, which Kara describes as the “light at the end of the tunnel,” infections may prevail. “A vaccine will likely protect us from dying of coronavirus, but it may not be sufficient to prevent further infections. So, we need to be careful about wearing masks and social distancing even after the vaccine is developed,” he warned.
Professor Recep Öztürk, another member of the Coronavirus Science Board, warns against another false sense of security: Gloves do not offer protection against the coronavirus. “It does not make you immune. On the contrary, gloves do more harm than protection,” he says. “People wearing gloves believe they are free to touch anywhere, anyone. This is not the right way to use it. Appropriate use of gloves against the infection is very difficult to maintain. Only trained health care staff in hospitals can use it properly to avoid infection to and from patients," he pointed out.
Öztürk also warned of another pitfall Turkey faced. He said they projected the number of new cases would fall toward zero in mid-June, but failure to comply with measures in the first days of normalization in June prevented it. “People relaxed compliance with rules, and we saw crowded places like wedding parties, ceremonies, etc., where people fail to follow the rules. This is the main factor in the rise in cases in some cities,” he told DHA on Wednesday. Although daily cases are below 1,000, Öztürk says the pandemic is not “stable” yet. “We also have asymptomatic patients who cannot be included in COVID-19 figures,” he said. Still, Turkey has to normalize, he says. “No country can continue a full lockdown for a long time, so, Turkey and other countries have to gradually relax restrictions and adopt a controlled social life."
Speaking on the reopening of schools in late August, Öztürk says children need to adapt to the new controlled social life too. “We see children adapting to wearing masks at schools in other countries. Turkey has to manage it as well. They have to learn to wear masks and adhere to social distancing, just like they learn how to brush their teeth regularly,” he said.
Öztürk also spoke about the prevalence of COVID-19 tests and how it was meaningless to test everyone who contacted a coronavirus patient. “The virus manifests itself between two and 14 days. A contact can test negative but test positive a week later. The first negative test can drive people to believe that they are safe and they would be careless in their contacts after that," he warned.
“Our only weapon against the virus is measures of protection. We have to be careful. We might see a rise in cases of cold and flu in September and October, and hospitals will have an extra burden. We have to relieve the burden of COVID-19 on hospitals now,” Öztürk said. He pointed out that 10 countries faced the risk of a second wave in infections, according to Oxford University's Coronavirus Government Response Tracker, and Turkey was not among them. “But if we drop our guard and do not follow the rules, we can be included among those countries. We don't know how long people can be immune. So, protecting ourselves is the only way to fight against the coronavirus,” he underlined.