Lockdown stems virus surge in Turkey however sluggish vaccination raises concern

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ISTANBUL — Nearly two weeks right into a 17-day nationwide lockdown, Turkey has seen new each day COVID-19 instances fall by greater than half to underneath 15,000 since tight social distancing measures have been imposed in late April. The restrictions, which closed most companies and stored nonessential staff home, have led to steep declines in new infections, prompting state officers to move ahead with a deliberate easing on May 17.

In a video message marking the top of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr vacation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioned Wednesday the nation would steadily elevate the lockdown after the festivities.

“Hopefully, by bringing the pandemic under control, we will take normalization steps in a controlled manner after Eid,” Erdogan said, adding, “Good days are ahead even though we are having a bitter holiday due to the problems caused by the pandemic.”

Turkey’s Interior Ministry is expected to outline new pandemic guidelines in the coming days, though health experts urged caution as the nation faces a slowdown in vaccine distribution that could reverse recent gains in stemming new COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chair of the Turkish Medical Association and an internationally recognized forensics expert, said Turkey’s health system has the capacity to administer 1-2 million vaccines per day, but on average has been issuing about 200,000 shots daily due to supply issues.

“There is no vaccination campaign,” Fincanci told Al-Monitor. “If you don’t have the vaccine, then you can’t have a vaccination campaign.”

To date, Turkey has received 25 million of 100 million doses from China’s Sinovac and about four million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the Health Ministry. A new batch of Sinovac vaccines arrived in Turkey Wednesday, though the quantity yet to be announced.

State officials have signed agreements to receive additional vaccines as well as licenses to produce the CoronaVac and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine locally in the near future, but Fincanci said the details of such contracts have not been shared publicly.

“In Turkey, we are in a totally dark space without any transparency,” Fincanci told Al-Monitor. “Unfortunately, the Turkish community has lost their trust in the government’s fight against the pandemic because they have hidden so many facts from the public and have continued to hide the truth.”

According to Health Ministry figures, more than 14.7 million Turkish citizens have received one vaccine dose and about 10.62 million received second doses since vaccinations began in mid-January. The Health Ministry also introduced vaccination ID cards Wednesday for fully vaccinated individuals seeking to travel.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said more vaccines would soon be made available and underlined the success of the ongoing lockdown, tweeting Tuesday that infection rates had fallen by 65% in Istanbul.

Other provinces that saw the steepest declines in new infections over the last week include Kirklareli, Canakkale, Duzce and Tekirdag. The positive trends saw Turkey fall from the fourth highest global COVID-19 case and death counts to fifth in daily cases and ninth in daily deaths on average over the last seven days.

Still, Fincanci and representatives of Turkish labor unions said the declines would have been even steeper if Turkish officials had not exempted manufacturing and construction workers from the lockdown measures. Ahead of the nationwide curfew, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey estimated at least 60%t of employees would continue working through the lockdown.

The rollout of some restrictions in Turkey’s lockdown measures also sparked controversy, including a ban on alcohol gross sales in the course of the 17-day curfew, which critics mentioned was a state try and impose conservative values on society.

Ozgur Aybas, head of a Turkish liquor retailer association, mentioned the alcohol restrictions led to the everlasting closure of as much as 20 shops as house owners struggled to pay money owed amid the droop in gross sales.

“The banks are open but the shops are closed, so how are we supposed to make money to pay our debts to those banks?” Aybas requested throughout a telephone interview with Al-Monitor.

Aybas mentioned the Turkish authorities ought to present extra monetary aid to retailer house owners impacted by the pandemic, including he feared rumors that new rules on alcohol gross sales within the near future may pose additional troubles for an estimated 150,000 liquor distributors within the nation.

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