Several ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials have announced that they have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, just a few days after attending the party's seventh ordinary congress in March.
Thousands of party members from across Turkey came together for the packed congress on March 24, in a blatant disregard of COVID-19 restrictions.
The party's event prompted nationwide protest for the size of the crowds that gathered in the capital Ankara, although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that the snowfall in the city had cleansed the air and reduced the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
Among the party officials who were infected with the virus in the aftermath of the congress were AKP Ağrı provincial chair Halil Özyolcu, AKP mayor Ağrı's Taşlıçay district İsmet Taşdemir, AKP mayor for Istanbul's Tuzla district Tahla Tayfur, AKP chair for İzmir's Bergama district Sebahattin Güzel, AKP Kütahya lawmaker Ceyda Çetin Erenler, AKP Kayseri lawmaker İsmail Tamer, and AKP chair for Denizli's Çivril district Halil Ertuğrul, daily Birgün reported on March 31.
According to a local news website called “Büyük Sivas,” a citizen who traveled on the same bus with AKP's Sivas provincial organization members has been also infected with the virus.
Separately, a local Bolu news website called “Medya 14” said that former AKP mayor Aladdin Yılmaz, chief of Bolu city special administration services Yaşar Yüceer and AKP Bolu women's branch head Hicran Çağalı have also caught the COVID-19 virus, after attending the March 24 congress.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) vice chair Onursal Adıgüzel has also released the names of AKP officials who are said to have been infected with the virus.
"When we said the virus respread through whole Turkey due to AKP congresses that were full to the brim, you were saying, 'Let's not keep this issue on the agenda,'" Adıgüzel wrote on Twitter, referring Health Minister Fahrettin Koca's remarks from a day earlier.
When asked to comment on the criticism towards the AKP for holding massive congresses amid the pandemic, Koca said on March 30: “I am of the opinion that keeping this issue on the agenda has no use to anyone."
Lebaleb dolu AKP kongreleri yüzünden virüs tüm Türkiye’de yeniden yayıldı dediğimizde bu konuyu gündemde tutmayalım diyordunuz. Bakın teşkilatınızdan bir çok kişi pozitif çıkmış belki bir geçmiş olsun demek istersiniz @drfahrettinkoca pic.twitter.com/fgS30pEfJH— Onursal Adıgüzel (@onursaladiguzel) March 31, 2021
The AKP has recently drawn severe criticism for its hypocrisy of holding mass provincial congresses amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Critics have pointed out that the ruling party has been using the pandemic as an excuse to ban demonstrations and protests, but flouting the measures when it comes to serving its own agenda.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) linked the party's meetings to infection rates, saying the number of cases has increased wherever the government has held a congress.
The AKP gatherings were held in the run-up to the party's seventh ordinary congress.