Skip to main content

Turkey sees record Covid-19 deaths for seventh day in a row

Surge in cases comes despite stricter efforts to contain virus, but opposition politicians accuse Erdogan of taking 'band-aid' measures
A deserted street in Istanbul's popular tourist neighbourhood of Beyoglu amid the coronavirus pandemic, 21 November 2020 (Reuters)

Coronavirus deaths in Turkey rose to a record for the seventh consecutive day on Sunday and the number of new cases remained high, despite efforts by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to contain a second wave of infections.

Turkey recorded 185 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours on Sunday, data from the health ministry showed, according to Reuters.

The number of new cases of coronavirus infections, including asymptomatic ones, fell slightly to 29,281. For four months, Turkey only reported symptomatic cases, but since Wednesday it has reported all cases.

Turkey is expected to report this week that its economy has bounced back from a sharp coronavirus-induced slump earlier this year. But that recovery, key to Erdogan's sustained political support, could be threatened by the new outbreak.

Covid-19: Turkey announces figures for asymptomatic cases for first time since July
Read More »

The government introduced tighter measures a week ago, including nightly curfews at weekends, restrictions on movements of people of non-working age, a move to online schooling and limiting restaurants and cafes to takeaway services.

However, the moves have done little to halt the remorseless rise in cases and fatalities, with Sunday's toll of 185 dead 45 percent above the peak of the first wave in April, and the number of new cases behind only the United States, India and Brazil - all countries with far larger populations than Turkey.

Doctors and opposition politicians have called for stricter measures, but with shops, restaurants and hotels already hit by the new clampdown, the government is anxious to avoid further economic pain and said people had a personal duty to cooperate.

"Our health army is under a heavy burden," Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter. "Each of us is responsible for following the measures."

People flouting regulations

Speaking after midday prayers on Friday, Erdogan attributed the resurgent pandemic to people flouting regulations.

"Masks and [social] distance are very important, hygiene is very important. As long as these are not heeded, especially in big cities, the increasing continuation of [the virus] becomes inevitable," the president told reporters.

Opponents say the government needs to take tougher action.

"The lives lost are our lives. But we see that the government is still trying to manage the situation with band-aid measures," Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition IYI Party, said in parliament last week.

'The lives lost are our lives. But we see that the government is still trying to manage the situation with band-aid measures'

- Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition IYI Party

"I am calling out to Mr Erdogan from here once again - come, impose a quarantine of at least 14 days."

Celalettin Koruturk, a specialist chest surgeon at an Istanbul hospital, echoed the call for stricter measures, saying that if the steps taken last weekend were going to be effective, they would have made a difference by now.

"Based on current data, we look to be at the top of the worldwide list of cases per population," he told Reuters. "We need to act very dynamically without waiting further."

Despite reporting daily figures since March, Turkish authorities had only been reporting symptomatic cases since the summer.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Koca unexpectedly said Ankara would begin announcing the total numbers, both symptomatic and asymptomatic.

"In line with requests from our people, we plan on including positive cases that do not show symptoms in the daily table," he said.

Vaccine from China

The minister noted that about 80 percent of people who test positive were either asymptomatic or showed slight symptoms.

Koca also announced that Turkey had signed a contract to buy 50m doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, and added that vaccines may begin distribution by mid-December.

"The important thing here [is] for us to start using vaccines which are known to be effective and reliable … I think the vaccination calendar could start on 11 December," Koca said.

Sinovac's experimental Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac triggers a quick immune response, but the level of antibodies produced is lower than found in people who had contracted the virus and recovered, preliminary trial results show.

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and American firm Pfizer, joint developers of a vaccine with 90 percent effectiveness, will prioritise Turkey as one of the first countries to receive the vaccine, a senior Turkish official told Middle East Eye earlier this month.