At last, Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca disclosed the number of COVID-19 patients according to cities. One in two coronavirus patients in the country live in Istanbul. In this megacity – where there are 2,987 people per square kilometer – there are now 1.5 COVID-19 patients per square kilometer. In other words, the city has become a center for the pandemic.
As we know, transportation, and especially air transport, played a key role in spreading the epidemic. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) puts forward other factors, including the belated closing of Turkey’s border with Iran, not putting those who travelled from Iran to Turkey under quarantine, sending migrants and refugees to the border with Greece before bringing them back to Istanbul and not putting those who returned from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia under quarantine.
Beyond that, Turkey – in comparison to other countries – had particular conditions that allowed for the spread of the virus: the country’s air traffic. As a reminder, the number of airline passengers in Turkey went from 33.8 million in 2002 to 208 million in 2019. What is more, Turkey set its passenger target at 246 million in 2022. This doubtlessly contributed to the spread of the virus in Turkey.
Besides, bear in mind that in the month of February, out of 11.5 million passengers across the world, 9.8 million used airports in Istanbul. Out of 14.6 million domestic passengers, 5.6 million were Istanbul passengers. As a host to 85 percent of all international travels, Istanbul has become an attraction center for corona. And as a host to 38 percent of Turkey’s domestic travels, Istanbul spread the virus to the rest of the country.
Istanbul Airport made a big leap in February with 9.8 million passengers. Out of these passengers, 7.5 million were international. That same month, as the coronavirus began spreading across the world, 3.8 million people arrived from abroad. Those 3.8 million who entered the country were obviously not put under quarantine.
And despite the cancellation of flights to and from China on Feb. 9, the overall number of international passengers increased in January compared to the previous month. The number of passengers in the whole month of January was 5.2 million. When the coronavirus was widespread in the month of February, the airport saw a total of 9.8 million passengers.
In March, we were faced with an interesting situation. While several flights continue to be permitted, President Erdoğan decreased the VAT on airline travels. On April 2, two planes from Tehran landed in Istanbul airport. Again, the more than 400 passengers that came to Turkey were not placed under quarantine.
Istanbul Airport, which enabled the spread of the coronavirus in Turkey, was funded with taxpayers’ money. The rent for the first year of the airport cost 1,045,000,000 euros and the cost of allowing passengers was 316,351,370 euros. That is, for the first year, 1 billion 361 million euros will be paid to airport’s builders and managers. That’s more than 10 billion Turkish Liras.
So while the Turkish state claims it does not have sufficient funds to combat the epidemic, 10 billion Turkish Liras will go to the airport. This data clearly suggests we should close the airport. Closing it would save money and prevent the pandemic from further spreading to the country. In case of necessity, the old Atatürk Airport could remain open.