Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR

The COVID-19 outbreak could spread to as much as 60 percent of the population, said Prof. Serap Şimşek Yavuz, member of Turkey’s parliamentary COVID-19 Science Committee.

“When you look at the number of COVID-19 patients in Turkey, they don’t even make up one percent of the population. This can spread until 60 percent of the population is infected,” Yavuz said.

The current preventative measures in place aim to slow the spread of the virus, but provisions might need to stay in place until a vaccine is created, Yavuz noted.

Meanwhile, public debate has been ongoing in Turkey concerning the relatively low number of patients in the country, with claims that Turkey doesn’t adhere to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) methods of counting the number of cases.

Yavuz noted that the WHO’s first code U07.1 counts patients who have been diagnosed with certainty, meaning they tested positive on COVID-19 tests.

Turkish experts agree, and Yavuz echoes that Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests that reveal the genetic makeup of the virus are the most reliable kind, even though they are in short supply in Turkey.

Meanwhile, the second WHO code, U07.2, counts patients who were diagnosed clinically, through their symptoms.

“But the whole world creates statistics based on the number of ‘patients who have been diagnosed with certainty.’ So the WHO wants to count patients who tested positive on PCR test,” Yavuz said.

Yavuz noted that PCR tests yield false negatives with some patients, in which case physicians will treat the patient for COVID-19 if they present clinical symptoms.

“I think that PCR tests diagnose about 70 percent of patients,” Yavuz said. “Because it’s such a novel disease and new tests, not all the tests perform as well as the PCR.”

Meanwhile, the WHO doesn’t mandate countries to reveal the count on the second code, which counts patients who were diagnosed clinically.

“The WHO suggests the second code for context. But this data is for doctors to use, not for sharing with the public.”

Yavuz said that Turkey’s physicians now diagnose people with clinical symptoms, but didn’t comment on whether those patients are included in the Health Ministry’s official number of cases.

“Considering the death rates too, I don’t think there’s anything being hidden.”