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Turkish officials accused of covering up coronavirus figures

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A discrepancy between official and local coronavirus-related statistics in Turkey is increasing as worldwide fear of a second wave of infections is growing.

According to the latest official statistics released by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, the pandemic-related death toll has reached 8,062, while critics claim it should be more than 20,000.

“For the first time in a long while, today the number of recovered patients is higher than the number of newly diagnosed ones,” the minister said on Twitter.

In the last 24 hours 1,412 additional COVID-19 cases were reported, while the number of recoveries was 1,422. Overall numbers for new cases and recoveries are 315,845 and 277,052, respectively.

However, the actual death toll is much higher than disclosed, according to Emrah Altindis, an assistant professor at Boston College and an adjunct faculty member at the Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

“At the beginning of March, I wrote that a tsunami was heading towards our cities [in Turkey]. That tsunami destroyed more than 8,000 families’ lives according to official figures. [However,] actual deaths are [most] likely in the range of 20-30,000. It is a big risk to start winter with this high number of cases!” Altindis had told the Gazete Duvar news website in March.

Sinan Adıyaman, chairman of the Turkish Medical Association (TBB), confirmed Altindis’s comments, saying feedback from the field show that “we are faced with a reality above the official statements,” in reference to Turkey’s noncompliance with international standards on how to measure deaths, or their causes.

“They [the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)] don’t want to reveal the number of patients in intensive care because we were able to calculate the number of intensive care patients as a percentage of all cases. We had been publishing the results until three or four days ago, showing that the number was over 10 percent in Turkey, while it was around 1.5 percent elsewhere in the world. After the TTB’s announcement, the Health Ministry removed these data [from the system],” Adıyaman said.

The TTB executive added that intensive care units were full in Ankara, with private hospitals no longer accepting patients with COVID-19 in intensive care.  

In fact, suspicion over the official figures has been an issue since the first COVID-19 case was announced by the AKP government in March, a late declaration compared to other countries, including neighboring nations that were then suffering from spread. The country confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 11 and the first death on March 18.

Turkish authorities have reiterated their success in the containment of the spread of the virus while emphasizing the failure of other countries. However, the AKP’s figures have been disputed by many independent circles and experts, including the TBB and the Istanbul Medical Chamber (ITO).

On March 29 Veli Ağbaba, vice chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the e-government website showed that 20 people in İstanbul alone had died of coronavirus or infectious disease on March 28. However, on the same day, the coronavirus-related death toll was announced by the Health Ministry as 16 for the entire country. 

Until that time, based on the figures collected from municipalities, the e-government system was revealing “identity” and “cause of death” on a daily basis. However, following the raising of suspicions like those of Ağbaba, the AKP administration removed the “cause of death” feature from the e-government system.

Another point that is criticized is the rate of testing in Turkey. The rate is considered low for the country when its population of more than 80 million is taken into account. According to the ministry, more than 10.15 million coronavirus tests have been conducted so far.

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