Turkey, hospital bed empty

The end of the pandemic? Hospitals empty of COVID patients

Vaccination and the Omicron variant have emptied ICUs and hospitals of coronavirus patients. However, the virus will remain among us.

After two years, the end of the coronavirus pandemic could be near as hospitals are empty of COVID patients, and units previously dedicated exclusively to those infected with the virus begin to be dedicated to other patients and diseases.

At the beginning of 2020, Turkey, like the rest of the world, was surprised by the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, a new virus with a great capacity for contagion against which neither effective vaccines nor medicines were known at the time: hospitals and intensive care units were overflowing with patients with respiratory syndromes fighting for their lives, health personnel worked endless hours to care for all the sick without being able to have contact with their families for fear of contagion, and the government built huge campaign hospitals to fight the coronavirus and decreed quarantine and confinement measures.

At the beginning of 2021, vaccination began with the first coronavirus vaccines arriving in Turkey; since then, new waves of the pandemic and new variants of the virus have followed again and again, each time more contagious but with a growing decrease in lethality. Omicron marked a clear change in trend, triggering infections but causing mostly asymptomatic cases or only mild symptoms, except among people who reject the vaccine.

In recent weeks, infections have continued to decline, to the point that in early March the Turkish government announced the long-awaited news: masks are no longer mandatory. While just two months ago the daily infections exceeded 100,000 cases, yesterday only 5,529 positives had been registered throughout the country: that is, half than just a week ago.

ICUs empty of coronavirus patients

In statements made today to the Anatolia agency, Professor Sema Kultufan Turan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Coronavirus of the Turkish Health Ministry, assured that there are practically “no patients” in Turkey who need urgent hospitalisation or who are admitted to ICU by coronavirus. “We have a drastic drop in hospitalisations here in the hospital city of Ankara,” said Turan, who also works as coordinator of emergency services at this hospital.

“The rate of people who need intensive care after being infected by COVID-19 has been reduced by 80%. These are good news. We know that this is not only happening in our hospital, but it is also the situation in other health centres throughout Turkey. Of course we have positive cases, but they are mild cases and most are patients who do not require admission,” she explained.

Vaccination and the Omicron variant, the main reason

Turan assures that this situation has allowed them to reduce the capacity of ICUs dedicated exclusively to COVID patients over the last month, and that these units are now being dedicated to treating patients suffering from other pathologies.

For this expert, the new situation of the pandemic in Turkey and the drastic drop in infections have two clear causes: on the one hand, an “efficient and complete vaccination” of the population; and on the other, the Omicron variant, “which has symptoms similar to those of the seasonal flu and it is less severe.”

Coronavirus will continue among us, but as an endemic virus

Since Turkey launched the vaccination campaign in January 2021, more than 147 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered to the population: more than 53 million have the complete schedule (two doses), and 27.6 millions have received booster doses (at least three doses).

Turan says that as hospitals empty of COVID patients, we are facing what looks like the end of the pandemic; in fact, she adds, most scientists agree that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to live among us, but more as an “endemic” and seasonal virus, with flu-like symptoms, than as the terrible pandemic that used to be when it arrived a couple of years ago.