Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said he did not foresee that people would ignore social distancing measures during the funeral of Islamic scholar Muhammed Emin Saraç and “apologized” for the breach of COVID-19 guidelines.
“I did not foresee that social distancing would be disregarded in the funeral. Should I have foreseen that? Yes, I should have. It is my fault. I apologize to citizens in that respect. As 83 million people, we should equally put self sacrifice and put effort into staying away from closed spaces and crowded areas during the pandemic period,” Koca told reporters on Feb. 24.
Koca's comments came after he attended along with hundreds of others, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Islamic scholar Saraç's funeral ceremony at Istanbul's Fatih Mosque on Feb. 21. This crowded gathering had been planned despite the death of Saraç himself of COVID-19.
M. Emin Saraç Cenaze Töreni https://t.co/LjIu8peynQ— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) February 21, 2021
The authorities did not limit the attendance although funerals are known to have been capped at 30 people.
The high number of attendees well as non-adherence to social distancing measures received wide criticism from the public.
Many people contrasted Koca's attendance to his professional rhetoric, which advises against large gatherings.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been heavily criticized for using the pandemic to implement regulations that serve its sociopolitical agendas.
The AKP bans demonstrations and protests in wide areas in cities, but holds its provincial congress meetings in closed spaces.