More than two weeks have passed since the first corona case was publicized in Turkey. As very few tests are being carried out, the number of cases remains artificially low. When “test to case” rates are examined, the graphic line is striking and discredits the authorities’ optimistic sentences about the epidemic’s late arrival in Turkey and the government’s good management of the situation.
Those statements, unsupported by facts and data have become no less than propaganda. The government is forcing this unfounded optimism upon the public. As usual, it accuses those who dare raise doubts of ‘national treachery’ and ‘ungratefulness.’ As with all issues, the coronavirus crisis has become highly politicized. The collective responsibility of slowing down the epidemic has been given to prayers and to individual ‘state of emergencies’. Rather than coming up with a much-needed strategy, the government is clumsily and barely managing the situation. While everybody is urged to refrain from politicking, the government is doing exactly the opposite.
Last week, the President introduced a package of measures. Later, the Health Minister Fahrettin Koca – who has been praised so far for his ‘good’ management of the crisis – did not elaborate on the measures, but thanked the president and the Minister of the Economy Berat Albayrak.
Koca also ‘expressed his gratitude’ to the health staff who suffer from a lack of adequate support and protective gear. Later, the authorities hastily imposed a curfew on the elderly. The “stay at home” campaign is simply impossible for many people. Rather than taking responsibility for the crisis, the government is holding its individual citizens accountable for it. Instead of declaring a national curfew, they urged people to “declare their own states of emergency.” So if ever grave consequences occur, the government will be able to accuse people for “not having declared their states of emergencies.” With regards to the great losses that may result from the crisis, solemn speeches will be delivered on the “nature” of the virus and odes will made for the health staff.
Though early action has emerged as a necessity since the calamity began to afflict the world four months ago, deals to import protection equipment were only just signed and we are supposed to welcome this as a great step. The test kit that began to be praised two months ago, which has been included in promises countless times, has yet to arrive. No logical answer has been provided as to the limited number of test kits. The location where cases are reported remains a secret, as the authorities use “patient privacy” as an excuse.
As the crisis was slowly unfolding, most Turkish TV channels chose to focus on such frivolous topics as local soup (kelle paça) and debates on ethnicity, shunning the pandemic. Officials also adopted the approach of “nothing will happen to us.” Some even went as far as to say this would benefit the country.
The subsequent isolation measures that were introduced, starting from schools, border controls, restrictions and controls on transportation, were implemented without following up and examination of their actual results. As the government scrambled to react to the crisis and the public questioned its effectiveness, it repeated that “panic was to be avoided.”
Amid this crisis, a simple question remains. As of today, close to 18,000 people have died because of this virus. It is obvious the majority of them have lost their lives because of imprudence, omission and negligence. Another source of anguish is the available resources to spur the economic recovery that will be necessary. Respective governments will be held responsible for economic collapse and stock exchange crashes.
US President Donald Trump first underestimated the epidemic saying that ‘if it were up to the doctors they would want to shut down everything.” The Governor of Texas suggested the elderly should die for the economy. The UK, which seems to have taken a risk, is now belatedly adopting measures to avoid a heavy toll. China and Russia are focused on how the West has fallen on its knees. Iran has stopped sharing data, preferring to spread conspiracy theories.
The entire world is aware of the severe economic consequences entailed by the pandemic and is acting accordingly. It is proceeding with generous packages and strict measures whilst attempting to foresee the aftermath. Everyone is developing strategies according to the own respective recipes and available means. Fatality has become an option for some, masking their inabilities by pointing to bad examples and shunning the success stories.
Fatih Terim, the coach of the major Turkish football team Galatasaray questioned why matches were not being postponed despite a decision to prevent supporters from attending the matches. Others opposed that very decision, calling to allow supporters to attend the matches. Terim was only considering the health of his players and administrative staff. Now, he’s in hospital and has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Since then, fans have hurled insults at the head of the football federation, at the “Chinese who ate bats” and at certain TV commentators. In the coming days, we will inevitably see scapegoats that have nothing to do with the crisis. We might even see volunteers who will willingly shoulder the blame.
Journalist Murat Yetkin wrote that the Health Minister and members of the Science Council failed to convince of the necessity of stricter measures at the Presidential Palace in Ankara. Warnings have been made not raise too much alarm. But it is clear that this issue is one of the greatest crises the government has faced so far, unlike the 36 martyrs in Idlib, Syria, when the Governor of Hatay was answering the press and the public, instead of top officials.