The second wave of infections seen in some countries is currently out of the question in Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said at a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don't expect a second wave," Koca said late Wednesday, adding that normalization is continuing as intended and precautions are vital. "The struggle will continue until the last case is recorded," he said.
He added that "867 people out of 52,305 tested positive coronavirus today as 24 lost their lives. The total number of recovered patients has surpassed 130,000."
Fear of an increase in cases has been a hot topic in Turkey, which took its biggest steps toward a return to normal life by lifting dozens of restrictions earlier this week.
Daily deaths dropping below 30 and daily cases below 1,000 means Turkey has managed to stave off the pandemic, for the time being, experts believe. The government has started lifting restrictions on intercity travel and bans on air transportation, and has ordered the reopening of restaurants and cafes.
Koca says a curfew in place for senior citizens will also be lifted soon but only if people comply with measures such as wearing protective masks and keeping social distance.
He warned that the normalization process should not be viewed as an end to the pandemic. “We should not forget how serious the disease is and should not relax measures for people in high-risk groups. We should continue to wear masks and should not violate social distancing rules just because we wear masks. This is not a time to return to old habits of daily life. Incompliance with measures means returning to the first days of the pandemic,” he highlighted.
Koca said that the public was astute enough to comply with measures and this is why they do not expect a second wave. “I am grateful to citizens for following the rules. If we don’t continue it, everywhere will be a risky area,” he said.
As for recoveries, the health minister said complementary plasma therapy proved beneficial for many patients.
So far, 4,500 COVID-19 patients have undergone plasma therapy after the Turkish Red Crescent launched a donation campaign. The Sabah newspaper reported that 9,262 COVID-19 patients who were fit enough after their recovery donated their plasma.
Recovered patients are eligible for donation 14 days after their full recovery. They can donate three times, once per week. Three units of plasma can be used in six patients. Currently, 240 hospitals across Turkey offer plasma therapy.
Using plasma donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19, medical experts hope that the serum therapy, similar to that used against SARS and Ebola, will offer effective treatment for the sick and temporary vaccine-like protection for health care workers and those with weak or suppressed immune systems. Tests will determine if giving infusions of survivors' antibody-rich plasma to intubated COVID-19 patients that have begun to show alveolar damage or those having trouble breathing can boost their own body’s defenses to help fight off the virus.
Plasma works using the same principle as a vaccine, but unlike a vaccine, any protection would only be temporary and offer passive immunization. A vaccine – which contains weakened or inactivated viruses and bacteria or small parts of them – trains people’s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ. When these germs enter the body again, the immune system knows how to deal with or defeat them. The plasma infusion approach similarly gives people a temporary dose of someone else’s antibodies that are short-lived and require repeated doses.
Herd immunity far-fetched
One hope for ending the pandemic is herd immunity, which means a large percentage of the population becomes immune to the coronavirus. Professor Mehmet Ceyhan, an infectious disease expert, says this is “just a dream” for now. “Based on my calculations, 6.7% of Istanbul – Turkey’s most populated city – and 2% of Turkey is now immune to the pandemic. Turkey should go through at least 25 such outbreaks to reach a 50% immunity rate,” Ceyhan told the Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Thursday.
Herd immunity is one of three ways for the pandemic to end, along with the development of a vaccine or a mutation of the virus. Ceyhan pointed out that none of the recent pandemics ended with the development of herd immunity. “At least half of the population should be immune for a pandemic to end. This pandemic will not go away with the current level of immunity,” he says. Still, figures from past crises show such viruses lose pandemic quality in two years. He echoed Koca’s statement about the absence of a second wave but warned that there might be a rise in the number of cases if people are not cautious.
Ceyhan said they will wait to see if the lifting of restrictions affects the number of cases. “We will see its impact in the next three weeks because there is an incubation period for the virus. After a sharp drop, the number of cases has floated around 1,000 since May 19, and we see another decline now,” he said.
More 'peaks' expected
Professor Ilhami Çelik, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Science Board, says Turkey went through a “great peaking period” in terms of the number of cases and will likely see “smaller peaks.” “We can have another one in autumn but complying with rules will reduce its fallout,” he told DHA on Thursday.
“We foresee a risk in autumn as temperatures decrease and more people spend time indoors. Cases will further decrease throughout the summer but only if we adhere to social distancing and other measures. Even if cases peak, we can manage to spread it over time to minimize the damage and make the pandemic more controllable,” he said.