Turkish gov't assigns citizens free masks in ‘place of residence,’ refuses distribution in other cities

Turkish citizens have been struggling to pick up their free surgical masks in pharmacies if they're not in their registered "place of residence." The Health Ministry has been indicating particular cities for citizens to pick up their free masks, but many are dislocated due to the travel bans established to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Serkan Alan / DUVAR

Turkey’s Health Ministry assigned citizens five free masks that they could pick up at pharmacies in their registered “place of residence,” but citizens who don’t live in said province have been struggling to pick up their masks.

Millions have applied online for free surgical masks since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the sale of masks for money would be forbidden as of April 3, and the use of surgical masks was mandated to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Health Ministry then set up a system that would text citizens with unique codes, which they would use to pick up their free masks at pharmacies in the province that the text indicated. 

However, citizens have reported being denied masks in pharmacies that weren’t in their registered “place of residence.”

Health Ministry too slow to distribute masks, Turkey's pharmacists warnHealth Ministry too slow to distribute masks, Turkey's pharmacists warn

A university student who wishes to be identified as S.E.D. is registered to reside in Ankara, but was stranded in Istanbul when the Interior Ministry established travel bans.

They went to a pharmacy in Istanbul with the text message they received from the Health Ministry to pick up their surgical masks. 

“The pharmacist said ‘You can’t pick this up from pharmacies in Istanbul, you need to pick them up in Ankara pharmacies,’” S.E.D. said. “But I can’t go to Ankara because of the travel bans."

S.E.D. said they couldn’t refute the pharmacist since their text message also noted that the masks could be picked up in Ankara. 

A sign at the entrance of a pharmacy reads "forbidden to enter without a mask."

S.E.D. had to buy a black cloth mask from the store since they couldn’t get their surgical masks from the pharmacy, but they say that they don’t even know if the cloth mask works. 

S.E.D. isn’t the only person experiencing this problem, they noted, adding that many people had traveled to their family’s homes before the travel bans. 

“I should be able to pick up these masks anywhere. Am I at fault here for being in another city?”

‘The government doesn’t know who’s where’

The Health Ministry was successful in delivering the surgical masks to pharmacies, but the distribution has been problematic, Turkish Pharmacists' Association (TEB) Chair  Erdoğan Çolak said. 

“Some people struggle with their place of residence. Some people haven’t received text messages. And not every pharmacy received the same number of masks, so some are out and some still have plenty.”

TEB reported the issues with the place of residence to the authorities, Çolak said, adding that a real solution would be to offer masks for sale. 

“Some people don’t even have a place of residence, they should be able to receive masks from the government anyways. The government doesn’t know who’s where.”

Çolak noted that persons younger than 20 and older than 65 aren’t allocated free masks since they’re under curfew, but might still need masks if they have to go outside on emergencies. 

“These persons need to be given masks too, even if it’s for money.”

Çolak also noted that the free surgical masks are effective when social distance is kept, even though there have been concerns about the efficacy of the products. 

“If you keep a distance [from others], cover your nose and mouth, you’re being precautious.”

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