ISTANBUL (TURKISH JOURNAL) – By Janet Ekstract – The Turkish Interior Ministry has announced that as of Tuesday, March 17 at midnight in Izmir and across Turkey, virtually all major and minor public venues will be required to close including pools, gyms, mosques and a host of other public places. Istanbul had already been ordered to shut all major bars, nightclubs and a host of other public venues to prevent major transmission of the COVID-19 (novel corona virus). Though Turkey has yet to see ubiquitous cases of the virus, the Turkish government isn’t taking any chances. Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Monday that there were an additional 12 cases of COVID-19 with the total reaching 18. But the latest reports on Tuesday, March 17, confirm at least 29 new cases of the virus from those who traveled to either the Middle East, the U.S., Europe or Asia, the health ministry announced.
Ever since the first case of COVID-19 in Turkey hit the news, a week ago, speculation has run rampant as to exactly which city the first corona virus patient returned to and where the patient had been. As it turns out, Turkish Journal’s anonymous source at Turkey’s well known Dokuz Eylul University Hospital said that the patient mentioned above had arrived in Izmir after having visited Poland and that he spent time in the emergency section of Dokuz Eylul University Hospital. Some members of this patient’s family have tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine. Turkish Journal’s source mentioned that the two quarantine centers in Izmir are Children’s Hospital and Suat Sen Hospital but that the government did not announce this and that medical personnel were told to keep the information under wraps.
In addition to bars, nightclubs, cafes and other such public venues being forced to close for an indefinite period of time – art galleries, all major events and exhibitions have been canceled in Izmir as well as Istanbul including major soccer matches. Turkish citizens are being encouraged to pray at home rather than at mosques and local hamams are also being required to shut down as well as massage salons and other related types of businesses that involve major physical contact. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open as will hospitals but universities will be closed for at least three weeks with primary, secondary and middle school closures continuing until the government lifts the ban.
Meanwhile, Ankara plans to quarantine any Turkish citizens returning from nine European countries that include Germany, France and Spain among them. The deadline for Turkish citizens to return is on March 17 at midnight at which time they will be escorted to specially prepared ‘homes’ for their 14-day quarantine. According to Turkish Journal’s source, Turkish cities reporting COVID-19 outbreaks include Istanbul, Izmir, Kayseri, Agri near Van and the border between Turkey and Syria.
In addition, The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on all nations to drastically increase their COVID-19 testing programs as the best method to slow down the spread of the virus. WHO recently declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva: “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded…We have a simple message for all countries – test, test, test.” He added that without testing, cases couldn’t be isolated and the pandemic could increase to an even more dangerous level.
On Monday, a major medical group warned that it was receiving reports that the number of Turkish COVID-19 patients could be a whole lot higher than an official count. The head of the Turkish Medical Association, Sinan Adiyaman commented that 7,000 tests made in Turkey are way too low currently and suggested the Turkish government must decentralize testing to find more cases. In a live stream news conference, Adiyaman said: ‘When we look at the rate of contagion, it is clear that the next two weeks are very critical. By foreseeing that the number of cases will quickly rise, taking the necessary precautions now is of vital importance.”
A major source of the virus are those returning from pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. So far it is known that one Turkish citizen who returned from visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia has been diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 15. More than 20,000 people from Turkey who traveled to Saudi Arabia have returned to Turkey but some social media reports that all of those who returned are not following the government’s recommendations to self-quarantine for two weeks. In this case, on Sunday, Turkish authorities made the decision to quarantine over 10,000 of those who returned from pilgrimages in Ankara, Konya and Kayseri.
In spite of an increase in cases, the Turkish government has taken additional steps to combat the spread of COVID-19. In a press conference in Ankara on Monday, Turkey’s health minister Fahrettin Koca said: “Turkey has new cases of coronavirus with analyses of their samples continuing, and the numbers will be announced later today.” Koca added that “The number of COVID-19 labs nationwide will be boosted to 16, and diagnostic kits will be sent to all cities.” The health minister also announced that Turkey has included flight bans for the UK, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ireland and the UAE from March 17 at 8 AM with a total number of flight bans at 20. Koca also commented that so far, Turkey has not had any deaths from the virus but that it is a possibility in patients with preexisting respiratory issues. He said Turkey will provide protective masks and quick COVID-19 diagnostic kits to hospitals and universities at no cost.