Turkey threatened with disaster as government ignores COVID-19 advice, top doctor says

The Turkish government is rejecting the advice of the medical profession on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, endangering public health, a top doctor said on Thursday.

Turkey is reporting a record number of cases of COVID-19, ranking it fourth globally for daily infections behind India, the United States and Brazil, which have much higher populations.

The surge in cases has forced the government to re-impose restrictions on the population that it had eased a little over a month ago.

“If it (the government) keeps ignoring medical advice, the country will end up with a disaster,” said Dr. Güray Kılıç, an executive board member of the Istanbul Medical Chamber, told Ahval in a podcast. The authorities are also seeking to suppress the voices of health workers, he said.

Turkey, with a population of 84 million, reported 61,400 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday. Infections now total 4,086,957 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Riot police intervened in an anti-government protest by health workers in Istanbul on Thursday as they gathered to make a press statement. The group called on the authorities to “stop the deaths”, Diken news website reported.

Kılıç said the government was now forcing members of the medical profession to decide which patients lived and which died as hospitals became over-crowded. More than 35,000 people have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in March last year, according to the Health Ministry. Independent assessments put the death toll at much higher levels.

Infections in Turkey have surged after the government eased curbs on the population on March 1, when daily cases stood at less than 10,000. It has since reintroduced many of the restrictions. On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a longer two-week evening curfew that began on Wednesday to coincide with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The new restrictions have partially backfired. A 7 p.m. curfew on the population means that public transport and roads in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city of almost 16 million people, have become highly congested. Diken published photos of traffic jams and queues of people violating social distancing rules at crowded public transport stops in a report on Thursday.

The government has been slow to impose restrictions on the population as it sought to keep the economy open. But the upsurge in cases now raises the spectre of slower economic growth and a possible disaster for the nation’s tourism industry, which earned the country a record $34 billion in 2019.

Kılıç said factories producing non-essential goods, construction sites and shopping centres should be closed for four weeks to help curb the spread of the virus. For factories that remained open, companies should introduce shift systems and ensure social distancing, while service buses used to transport employees to and from work must not be overcrowded, he said.