One year since first COVID-19 case reported in Turkey

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It has been one year since Turkey’s Health Minister announced in the early hours of March 11 the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the country that immediately launched its uphill battle against the virus, which has infected more than 2.8 million people and killed over 29,000 patients to date.

The first death from the virus was confirmed on March 17.

In the wake of the confirmation of the first case, the government rolled out measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Schools were closed on March 16 and international flights were banned.

Curbs would be further tightened in the coming days and weeks, including the mandatory use of face masks and social distancing rules.

Cinemas, bars, restaurants and cafes were closed, fans were banned from sports events and restrictions on intercity travel were imposed. All private hospitals were designated as pandemic hospitals.

Limited curfews were declared.

In mid-April, the number of daily virus cases were hovering around 11,000 and 12,000, but the measures later started to pay off: Daily infections came down fast. In mid-May, the daily number of cases were fewer than 3,000.

Easing and closing

As the pandemic outlook improved, the government decided to ease some of the restrictions starting in June. Domestic flights were resumed, restaurants, cafes and other public places reopened.

From June to mid-October, the number of daily virus cases remained at fewer than 5,000, but in November Turkey saw a spike in infections. In late November and December 2020, Turkey was trying to cope with nearly 30,000 cases each day.

As the outbreak situation worsened, the government announced more restrictive measures. Weeknight curfews and full lockdowns on weekends were imposed, restaurants and cafes were closed again.

Vaccination

While the outbreak entered a more problematic stage, Turkey ramped up efforts to roll out its vaccination program. The first batch of the virus injection CoronoVac, developed by the Chinese pharmaceuticals company Sinovac, arrived in Turkey on Dec. 30, 2020. Following a 14-day test period, the country launched its four-stage vaccination drive, starting with health workers, on Jan. 14.

Nearly, 10.4 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to date. Some 8 million people have received the first dose of the jab, while over 2.6 million people have got both doses. Turkey aims to vaccinate 52.5 million people by the end of May.

Normalization

As the inoculations gathered pace, the government last week announced the plan to gradually soften the curbs under the “controlled normalization” phase, easing weekend lockdowns in low- and medium-risk provinces while limiting lockdowns to Sundays in those deemed at higher risk.

Restaurants and cafes have been allowed to receive customers from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 50 percent capacity in the low-, medium- and high-risk provinces. They remain closed in the very-high risk provinces.
Local officials are now in charge of deciding whether the restrictions should be eased or tightened depending on the outbreak situation in individual provinces.

Turkey, however, has been experiencing yet another spike in the infection cases, with the daily infections hovering around 11,000. On March 9, more than 13,700 new infections were reported.

Experts are now warning that many cities may have to be forced to tighten curbs in the coming days if the current situation doesn’t change.

Hurriyet Daily News

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