“The delta variant has become the dominant strain in our country, as predicted. Unvaccinated people are the most defenseless,” professor Afşin Emre Kayıpmaz told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Sunday, urging Turkish citizens to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The delta variant is two times more contagious, causing concern,” he said.
The professor also said that it is a higher possibility for people infected with the delta strain to be hospitalized compared to other variants.
Underlining that the vaccines seem to be effective against new variants, Kayıpmaz also emphasized that people refusing to get jabs are the most vulnerable.
“The vaccines actively protect us against the coronavirus. The risks of death, severe symptoms and hospitalization are meaningfully lower for fully vaccinated people,” he added.
Adding that social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene measures should continue as before, Kayıpmaz also said that “simple precautions will protect us from the delta variant as well.”
Fighting the coronavirus since March 2020, Turkey is intensifying its battle against the disease, implementing a slew of new restrictions that would target unvaccinated people.
“Only way to beat COVID-19 is vaccination,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a statement recently.
“I call upon every Turkish citizen to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said, later detailing the restrictions.
“During this school year, unvaccinated teachers and students will be required to get two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests every week,” he said.
“We will also bring obligatory PCR tests for flights and intercity bus travel, concerts, theaters and cinemas, where people gather,” Erdoğan added.
As of Sept. 6, a negative PCR test will be mandatory for those who have not been vaccinated or not recovered from the coronavirus, to enter concerts, cinemas and theaters, a circular released by the Interior Ministry said amid a comprehensive vaccination program continuing in the country. A similar requirement is also expected to be introduced for schools and universities as Turkey is getting ready to fully resume in-person education in early September.
Public organizations and events will be able to check through the visitors' HES (Life Fits Into Home, in Turkish "Hayat Eve Sığar") code – the coronavirus contact tracing system – whether they have been vaccinated, recovered from an infection, whether the person is considered scientifically immune after having the disease or if they have a negative PCR test not older than the past 48 hours.
"If the person has not contracted the disease, or is not vaccinated, or doesn't have a negative PCR test, they will not be allowed to participate in the event," said the statement.
There will be also a negative PCR test requirement for intercity trips by planes, buses, trains or other public transportation vehicles, excluding private vehicles, for people not vaccinated or who have not recovered from an infection. Those without the mentioned criteria will not be allowed on intercity trips, it added.
The circular underlined that "the most powerful" element in the fight against the pandemic and to minimize the risk posed by the virus to public health and public order is a vaccination carried out voluntarily, as well as hygiene, mask-wearing and adherence to social distancing rules.
The ministry emphasized that the number of cases, patients and deaths caused by the pandemic are at low levels in those who have completed the vaccination regime.
Turkey has administered some 88.4 million vaccines against COVID-19, mainly Sinovac's CoronaVac and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The figures, which include the first, second and third doses, show the country administered more doses than its population since it began its vaccination program in January.
More than 45 million people received their first doses while another 34.9 million have now received both doses required for protection against the coronavirus. Nearly 7 million additional doses or “booster” shots were also administered in the country. These third doses are required to prolong the efficacy of vaccines against the infections, authorities say.
Turkey ranks eighth in the world in terms of the highest number of doses according to the ourworldindata.org website, which compiles vaccination numbers from all over the world. China leads the list with more than 1.8 billion doses, ahead of India, which administered more than 554 million doses.
Turkey recently lowered the vaccine eligibility age to 15 from 18 and started offering first doses to children at the age of 12 and above who suffer from chronic illnesses. It also shortened the gap between the last positive coronavirus test and the first dose of the vaccine a recovered patient can receive, to one month.
Turkey lifted most COVID-19-related restrictions on July 1, including curfews, after the number of cases significantly dropped following a strict lockdown.
Although mandatory masks and social distancing rules remain in place, the country has seen a surge in the number of daily cases recently, which is tied to higher mobility after the end of restrictions. Experts say there is a false perception of “safety” among people who ditched masks after the start of the “normalization process.”
Authorities repeatedly have said they are not considering reimposing restrictions, but they have expressed determination to reach out to more people in the vaccination program.
Turkey started administering CoronaVac jabs to health care personnel in January, and the president himself was vaccinated with the inactive vaccine. Later on, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was also made available for citizens and residents to choose.
In the meantime, work is underway on locally made vaccines. Most are still in the early stages of development, but scientists hope to achieve results this year. Vaccines being developed in the country range from an inactive vaccine to an intra-nasal spray and a virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters that universities and pharmaceutical companies are working hard, and he expected “mass production” would start in September or October “based on what they pledged.”
The country has also started to inoculate volunteers with a Turkish-developed COVID-19 vaccine.
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