Is Turkey returning to square one in its COVID-19 battle?

Turkey was the last major economy in the world to report its first case of the highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus on March 11. On the 105th day of the outbreak, Turkey still ranks 12th in the total number of cases worldwide, and fourth among European countries.

It also comes first in the number of daily confirmed cases in Europe.

This information does not require any intense study nor deep examination. When you review the daily data from the World Health Organisation, you can easily see these results.

Unfortunately, we have not carried out a detailed analysis of the contagion since the beginning.

It is only possible to have a reliable analysis of the pandemic if we have data on the regional spread of infection, the situation in Turkey’s provinces, the gender and age distributions of the patients and the true death toll due to the novel coronavirus.

However, despite persistent warnings by medical experts, the government continues to carry out the decision-making process with a narrow cadre. We try to evaluate the situation through incompetent data provided on a daily basis by the Health Ministry.

Turkey started easing restrictions taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak on June 1 after the authorities said at the time the pandemic was under control and the country's COVID-19 cases remained at the "anticipated level".

The number of daily registered cases increased to around 1300-1400 and the numbers of patients taken into intensive care or hooked to a ventilator have increased, putting a stop to earlier declining trends.

The current situation is not a cause, only a result. Turkey adopted a normalisation process similar to European countries when their confirmed cases dropped to around 400 per day. The Turkish government's economic concerns overrode concerns over human health, resulting in the current situation.

During the early stages of Turkey’s outbreak, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s insistence on keeping factories and businesses open raised eyebrows among critics.

He was criticised for prioritising the economy over taking necessary and urgent steps to tackle the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) resisted demands by the political opposition to introduce a nationwide shutdown. The government took steps to impose a shutdown in April, but only a partial curfew for citizens over the age of 65 and under 20.

The basic principles of the normalisation process are carrying out more tests and effectively isolating patients. However, Turkey has reduced the number of administered tests. In fact, the medical criteria for conducting tests was narrowed last week.

The re-opening of shopping malls, the removal of the 50 percent occupancy requirement for public transport and not cancelling nationwide university and high school entrance exams for nearly five million students brought expected – and undesired – outcomes.

The AKP government damaged public trust by working with a narrow cadre and not openly sharing the relevant data with scientists and medical experts.

Meanwhile, the "rapid normalisation", initiated solely with economic concerns, also wasted months-long efforts to curb the spread of infection.

Restricting people's lives with indefinite anti-virus measures is undoubtedly impossible.

We must continue with individual protection measures, including wearing medical masks, maintaining social distancing and keeping an eye on hand hygiene.

However, the main responsibility for regulating protection measures in social life lies with the government. If we talk about normalisation in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, we must adopt a road map based on Turkey's specific needs.

Otherwise, a resurgence in COVID-19 cases may lead to a second coronavirus wave. Turkey, like other countries across the globe, is attempting to avoid such a scenario while opening up its economy. Any protracted uptick in infections could also spell trouble for Turkey’s fragile economy, which faces its second recession in two years, and could hit its vital tourism industry.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.