As the lockdown has been lifted and restrictions eased, Turkey’s struggle to control the pandemic continues. The government claims the pandemic is under control, but recent and verified numbers confirm that the “first wave” is not over yet.  

On July 5, Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca warned of a spike in the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care. Koca urged the public daily to take the necessary precautions at an individual level, stressing that the pandemic was “not over yet.”  

Meanwhile, health experts who criticize or challenge the government’s strategies are under pressure. Last week, the rectorate of Uludağ University filed an investigation against its renowned professor of public health, Kayıhan Pala. 

On April 19, Professor Pala had claimed that the number of cases in Bursa did not reflect reality. He also questioned the official death toll. Now, Pala is accused of “misinforming the public and causing panic.” Prof. Pala’s concerns are in accordance with the Turkish Physicians Association (TTB) and the Turkish Thoracic Society, both independent professional chambers. 

On June 30, I spoke with several physicians from the TTB on Artı TV on how they view Turkey’s pandemic strategy. All of them were concerned with the recent spikes in the number of cases, especially in central and eastern Anatolia. 

“Today, as the number of COVID-19-related deaths peaked across the world, the performance of countries can be categorized as bad, good and average. So far, Turkey seems to be average. Yet no country can solve this in the short run,” Prof. Pala said. He was concerned that Turkey’s peak was not slowing down and that numbers were rising. 

Prof. Pala pointed out the main problems in Turkey’s COVID-19 strategy as follows:

  • Since Turkey’s pandemic management is opaque, it is impossible to discuss the different parameters of this disease. We do not know how many cases there are in individual cities, or cross-city variances. 
  • We do not know the age, or the gender of COVID-19 patients. We do not know which complaints they had or which chronic diseases, if any, they might carry. We do not know which social classes are affected, and how. For example, we have no idea how migrants are affected, a population whose numbers amount 4 million in Turkey. The government only provides limited data.
  • There are problems regarding scientific research. One needs to get the Health Ministry’s approval in order to conduct research. 
  • Another major problem are tests. As everyone knows, PCR tests don’t necessarily show positive cases. At times, one needs to repeat the test in order to obtain the correct result. What we do know is the number of tests conducted. It does not show how many people were tested and on what grounds were they tested. Did these people apply because they showed symptoms? Again, we don’t know. 

Other doctors argue that the quality medical equipment remains insufficient for health workers, especially in eastern Turkey. Many scientists stress the fact that the current restrictions are putting people at risk since the public relaxed too early. 

The Turkish government needs to address these major problems immediately, take independent scientific advice into account if it really wants to gain total control of the pandemic. Attempting to suppress critics, the media and scientific advice is not the solution.