Turkey, coronavirus pandemic in Europe

One year from the first coronavirus case in Turkey

Despite that more than 10 million have been vaccinated, experts warn that new strains of the virus have triggered infections.

Today marks a year since the Turkish Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca, announced early in the morning of March 11, 2020 the first case of coronavirus detected in Turkey, a country that until then had remained safe from the pandemic of COVID-19, which to date has infected more than 2.8 million in the country and caused the death of more than 29,000 people.

Turkey’s “patient zero” was a Turkish citizen who was infected on a trip to Europe and was detected and quarantined upon his return; when announcing the first case, the Minister of Health assured then that “the coronavirus is not strong enough to cross the measures taken by Turkey”, and announced new restrictions: the closure of schools and the suspension of all international flights came on March 16, but the first death from the virus was registered by March 17. It would be the first of many thousands.

Later would come other measures such as the mandatory use of a mask and the maintenance of social distance, the closure of cinemas, bars, cafes and restaurants, closed-door soccer games, the suspension of the league in various sports, travel restrictions between cities, or curfews.

By mid-April, about 12,000 daily infections were already registered, but the measures began to take effect: a month later the number of daily infections had dropped to less than 3,000 a day.

More than 10 million people have been vaccinated in Turkey

One year and three waves of the pandemic later, the arrival of vaccines against the coronavirus has brought some relief to the situation; currently 10.4 million people have already been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, including 2.6 million who have also received the second dose. Turkey already exceeds most of its neighbours in Europe in vaccination rates, and the government assures that by the end of May it will have vaccinated 52.5 million of its citizens.

With infections stabilized at around 3,000 a day, just a few days ago the Turkish government also announced a de-escalation plan towards a gradual “normalisation”, easing restrictions and curfews and reopening restaurants and cafes as well as schools, although only in the provinces that are not classified with a very high risk of contagion.

Concern about the increase in cases and the new virus strains

However, in recent days, many experts are raising the alarm at what seems to be an obvious increase in infections that could be the anticipation of a fourth wave of the pandemic. After several days with infection rates hovering around 11,000 daily cases, 13,700 new infections were recorded on March 9, and the next day a record was reached since January 1: more than 14,500 daily infections.

Although the daily deaths from the pandemic seem to have stabilised, the evident increase in infections worries, and virologists believe that many cities in the west of the country – the most populated – could soon be forced to reintroduce closures, restrictions, curfews and other measures if the situation does not take a turn, something that seems unlikely.

In the opinion of the Turkish Minister of Health, the rapid growth in infections is most likely due to the spread of new strains of the virus, which have higher rates of infectivity. “Although this does not affect hospitalisation in parallel, it has the potential to cause more cases, and therefore more patients,” warned Koca, who recalled that for now the containment measures and the vaccine are the only weapons against the new variants.

As reported by the minister, so far 41,488 cases of coronavirus have been detected in Turkey belonging to the British strain in 76 of the 81 provinces of the country; likewise, 61 cases of the South African strain have been confirmed in 9 provinces, 2 cases of the new California-New York variant, and a single case of the Brazilian strain of the virus.