Turkey has registered a five-fold increase in COVID-19 cases compared the previous peak in April, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Dec. 9.
"There is over a five-fold rise in the daily number of COVID-19 cases and 55 percent increase in deaths compared to the previous peak in April,” Koca said, while speaking after the meeting of Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board.
“You know and see the burden on our healthcare workers. In intensive care units, several of our patients are struggling for their lives. The number of hospitalized patients is on the increase and this is more visible in some of our provinces,” he said.
He said the southern provinces of Hatay, Adana and Mersin, the northern province of Samsun, and the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya continue to see a rise in figures. "Our hospitals, intensive care units are under a serious burden," he said.
The minister said that major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Konya and Gaziantep have recently started to see a decrease in the spread of the virus.
"Though this situation [decrease in numbers] is reflected in the status of outpatient clinics, inpatient and intensive care units continue to have high occupancy rates. As a result of this, stricter restrictive measures were inevitable," Koca said.
The health minister further said that more than 120,000 health care workers, or 10 percent, have been so far infected with COVID-19, and 216 of them lost their lives.
Koca also touched upon Turkey's plan to start using Chinese COVID-19 vaccine later this month. Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has signed a contract to buy 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd and expects to begin vaccinations this month, prioritizing health workers.
Koca said Turkey expected to receive delivery of China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd in the coming days, adding that it was in talks to procure other vaccines if needed, too.
The Sinovac vaccine will be administered in two doses, each 14-21 days apart, the minister said.
He went on to say that the vaccination will be free-of-cost for all Turkish citizens. "We are not thinking of making vaccination mandatory for now. Instead, we are aiming to convince our citizens into making mass vaccination possible."
The vaccination will not be administered on pregnant women and to those under the age of 18.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously said citizens should be patient until the vaccines arrive.
Turkey's daily COVID-19 deaths on Dec. 9 rose to a record 217, bringing the total death toll to 15,531, Koca said, and added there had been more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases in total.
For four months, Ankara only reported daily symptomatic cases, but has reported all cases since Nov. 25. Koca said the government would publish historical data for all cases starting on Dec. 10.
"Our positive case numbers exceeded 1.5 million. Of these, 550,000 went through a visible sickness," Koca said, and added there were 31,712 new coronavirus cases, including asymptomatic ones.