In adopting partial lockdowns and its own medical protocols, Turkey is taking a gamble in charting its own path in its response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, CNN said on Friday.
Last weekend, the Turkish government implemented a 48-hour curfew for 31 provinces, and another 48-hour curfew has been announced for this weekend. During the week a strict curfew has been imposed on those under 20 and over 65.
But, while many small businesses and public places and institutions are closed, restaurants are open for delivery or pick-up only and many construction sites, factories and businesses remain open.
Experts told CNN that partial lockdowns can be effective – if people follow appropriate measures.
“It’s an alternative strategy,” Muhammad Munir, a virologist at Lancaster University, told CNN. “Eighty percent of the people infected have recovered. So, if it’s healthy people who don’t have underlying causes, then that is absolutely helpful. The only benefit of a lockdown is that the spread of the disease will be slow, the pressure on the hospitals will be reduced.”
But Turkey currently has the world’s second highest rate of new infections after the United States, and Jeremy Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent, told CNN that partial lockdowns are only effective when done early on and when a country still has a low level of cases, or if infections have already peaked and the country is emerging out of a full lockdown.
“At [Turkey’s] level, most countries are implementing a full lockdown. A partial lockdown can be good, it can balance keeping some of the economy functioning while still trying to contain the outbreak” Rossman told CNN.
“It depends on how well the population is adhering to the guidance and how well physical distancing and hand hygiene are being implemented in workplaces. But at the rate Turkey is going right now, there is risk this won’t be sufficient.”
Turkey has a lower mortality rate from COVID-19 than many other countries at just over 2 percent, but the Turkish Medical Association has said that Turkey’s official statistics do not include cases that have tested negative but still strongly indicate a COVID-19 infection.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca argues that Turkey’s mortality rate is due to the country’s large healthcare capacity and a treatment regime which includes using high frequency oxygen for a longer period of time to avoid intubation, and the early adoption of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and favipiravir, a Japanese antiviral.
But Munir told CNN that the anti-malarial drug may come with risky side effects that outweigh any benefits. “When it comes to hydroxychloroquine, the patients might have recovered from Covid-19 anyway, but after a year they might see heart problems coming back, that blindness is appearing. This is why there isn’t enough evidence to approve these drugs on a mass scale,” he said.
Nuri Aydın, the president of Istanbul University-Cerrahpaşa School of Medicine, told CNN that the drug has been effective. “What we have seen is that the time that the patients spend in the ICU [intensive care unit] decreases when they take hydroxychloroquine before they reach the stage where they have to enter the ICU.”
Aydın told CNN there isn’t enough data to publish their findings yet and that “time will show us the real results.”