Serkan Alan / DUVAR
According to health experts and doctors, the loosening of masking requirements and lifting of the health-tracking HES code system in Turkey will lead to more deaths.
“How can we be so insensitive? The decisions taken can be considered as the beginning of a process that will rekindle the epidemic,” said Turkish Medical Association (TTB) president Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
On March 2, following in the steps of countries around the world including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Denmark, Turkey announced that it would be lifting masking requirements outdoors and in indoor settings with proper ventilation and social distance. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca also announced the end of the health-tracking HES code system, which has long been required for entry to buildings, stores, and public transit.
“We do not remove masks from our lives, we carry them with us to wear them when necessary,” the health minister said.
Fincancı says that this represents a Darwinian policy that devalues the lives of those more susceptible to the virus, such as the sick and the elderly. She says there are insufficient controls in place to ensure the distance and ventilation the minister promised.
“This is the behavior that aims to reduce the population population and get rid of older people, which he sees as a burden on the system,” she said.
She added that this system puts the burden of protection on the individual, rather than on the state. Further, she sees it as a performative move to be in line with Europe, without the vaccination rates and protective measures in place to ensure that people stay healthy. Only 35% percent of people are now triple vaccinated, and Financı says it’s impossible to control a pandemic without a contact tracing system.
She also highlighted that the move, which will make conducting business, sales, and travel easier, is clearly favoring the interests of the private sector over the lives of Turkish citizens.
TTB Secretary General Vedat Bulut said that these rules could lead to the development of a new variant, which could threaten Turkey and the world.
“A new variant strain may be developing, whether or not it is currently known,” he said. He predicts both case and death rates will skyrocket given that the only tools known to protect against the virus in addition to vaccines - masking, contact tracing, and social distance - have now been done away with. He calls this a “very wrong decision.”
Turkey still has nearly 60,000 reported daily cases and an average of 180-200 daily deaths as a result of the coronavirus. Ankara Medical Chamber President Ali Karakoç says it's unacceptable to lift requirements when nearly 1,500 people are dying every week from the virus.
Further, he says that it is not fair to give Denmark and England as examples for Turkey to follow. Each of these countries has full vaccination - triple-vaccinated - rates above 80%. Only 32-35% of Turkish citizens are fully vaccinated.
“It is unacceptable to take such an attitude by taking them as an example. They are disregarding the lives of the society and citizens,” he said.
He says that the move is “hypocritical” and will endanger the entire Turkish populace, in particular the sick, elderly, and vulnerable.
“We will face much more deaths and much more positive cases. We will encounter very large deaths, especially in those working in public areas and among the elderly,” Karakoç said.
(English version by Erin O'Brien)