The latest figures by the Health Ministry paint a gloomy picture for Turkey in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the vaccination program is credited with sparing more from infections, weekly case numbers between Sept.18-24 indicate the situation is still alarming.
The number of provinces with 200 and more cases per 100,000 people hit 50 in the said week, while five out of 81 provinces had the distinction of keeping the number of cases per 100,000 below 50. The figure of 200 is a relatively low number but still high for the country grappling with a new surge in daily cases.
Over the past few weeks, daily cases fluctuated around 27,000 and above, with daily fatalities exceeding 200. On Sunday, fatalities dropped below 200, to 194, though case numbers are still above 27,000.
Authorities had ruled out a return to strict restrictions, including a COVID-19 lockdown for 17 days that was lifted earlier this summer. However, several restrictions are already in place for the unvaccinated who are now required to undergo polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR) for access to crowded venues and for travel. Restrictions are viewed as essential as a fast-spreading delta variant is taking hold in the country.
It is unclear how long the current upward trend in pandemic figures will continue, though experts had already warned that a tough autumn is expected after a relative lull in the pandemic through the first half of summer. It is a time when more people spend time indoors, facilitating infections. For instance, the number of cities with more than 200 cases per 100,000 was only 28 in the second week of August.
The provinces in the Black Sea region long dominated the list of places with the highest number of cases while the southeastern and eastern regions led in the number of lowest vaccination rates. The new figures, nevertheless, showed that Kayseri in central Turkey had the highest rate of cases, at more than 539 per 100,000. It is followed by Zonguldak, Trabzon and Rize, all in Black Sea region and each with weekly case numbers above 500.
Izmir, the country’s third-largest city, is the only one among big cities with cases per 100,000 below 50, at 49. Muğla, Antalya and Izmir’s neighbor Aydın are three other cities in the west with case numbers below 50, while Van holds the distinction of being the only city in the east with the lowest number of cases, at 41 per 100,000 people.
In the meantime, the Health Ministry seeks to curb disruption to daily life by scrapping old rules for COVID-19 patients, in light of the course of the pandemic. A ministry guideline on the coronavirus, shortened quarantine for COVID-19 patients to 10 days from 14 days, if they do not exhibit symptoms and even if they are not vaccinated or have only one dose of the vaccine. For asymptomatic patients who attend primary and secondary school, it was recommended to return to in-person education on the fifth day of infection if their PCR test on the fifth day is negative. If the test is positive, the quarantine will be extended to 10 days.
The new rule also eliminates the need for PCR tests to end quarantine on the 10th day of infection for asymptomatic patients.