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Number of COVID cases spikes in İstanbul

The number of COVID-19 cases in İstanbul has increased dramatically, amounting to 40 percent of cases countrywide, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.

“The number of cases in İstanbul has reached a level that translates to 40% of countrywide cases and is five times higher than the cases in Ankara,” Koca tweeted.

The minister added that the most crucial weapon in the fight against the pandemic was to observe protective measures. He emphasized the importance of using a mask.

Until recently, the capital city of Ankara led the country in COVID-19 cases. The sudden increase in cases in İstanbul has raised concerns that the pandemic has gotten out of control there. 

According to the ministry, there have been 9,584 deaths from COVID-19 in the country, while the number of coronavirus patients totals 355,528.

Koca made a bombshell revelation on September 30, saying that the government does not add the number of people infected with the coronavirus who are asymptomatic to the final statistics, prompting outrage among the Turkish public.

Answering a question posed by Öykü Tüccar from NTV at a daily press briefing on COVID-19 numbers, Health Minister Koca said: “Not every coronavirus case is a COVID-19 patient. Some do not show symptoms. We do not publish the number of cases. We publish the number of patients.”

The revelation confounded media outlets, which have been reporting the patient figures on daily coronavirus charts posted by Koca as the number of confirmed cases per day.

Koca’s admission came after the disclosure of official documents by a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who said official data records case numbers 20 times higher than what is being announced to the public.

CHP lawmaker Murat Emir on September 29 had released documents obtained from the Health Ministry’s Laboratories Information Management System that said there were 29,377 positive coronavirus test results on September 10, while the ministry announced only 1,512 new COVID-19 cases that day.

Emir tweeted that the minister had confirmed his allegations of covering up COVID-19 figures.

The Turkish Medical Association (TBB) also took a swipe at the minister, holding him responsible for the spread of the virus in the country by hiding the true numbers.

According to “Pandemic Survey: October 2020” by the TBB, nearly 461,000 people are in home isolation across the country, 100,000 more than the official figure.

Speaking at a press briefing to announce the survey results, TBB official Emrah Kırımlı said the ministry had reduced the quarantine period from 14 to 10 in order to portray the number of COVID-19 cases as being low.

Kırımlı added that the daily number of cases on September 24 was 13,341 based on the checklists of family doctors. Minister Koca, however, announced that it was 2,102. 

TTB Chairwoman Şebnem Korur Fincancı said the results of the TTB survey were “scary in every sense.”

There is also a shortage of flu vaccines in Turkey. The government’s science committee recommended that people with chronic illnesses and those over 65, which total around 25 million people, should be vaccinated. However, only 1 million flu vaccines were able to be imported.

Due to the scarcity of vaccines, the ministry created a scoring system for people to be vaccinated. However, even a 72-year-old patient suffering from diabetes and hypertension does not qualify based on the system criteria, TBB official Filiz Ünal said during the press conference. 

Professor Bengi Başer confirmed a similar case in which a 77-year-old patient suffering from multiple diseases, including congestive heart failure and chronic lung disease, could not get the flu vaccine. 

“[The system said] he was not in the priority risk group. Then I wonder who is in the risk group,” Başer tweeted.

Başer went on to say that doctors were being subjected to verbal abuse by people who cannot get the flu vaccine.

“I have Hepatitis B, chronic gastritis, lung injury, two separate cancer diagnoses last year (3rd stage lymphoma and kidney cancer); surgery and chemotherapy treatment, monitoring process. Still, I could not qualify for the flu vaccine. ‘Don’t you worry about it!’” Akın Atalay, a prominent lawyer, tweeted on Thursday.

“You are considered in the risk group for COVID 19 due to chronic diseases. But you’re not at risk when it comes to the flu shot. Just come out and say it: ‘Dude, there aren’t enough vaccines, so we have to try to fool you,” Atalay said.

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