Foreign COVID-19 patients traveling to Turkey in private air ambulances for treatment

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At a time when Turkey’s hospitals and healthcare workers are overwhelmed by a surge in the number of coronavirus patients, Turkey has been accepting COVID-19 patients from overseas who travel in private air ambulances at a cost of some $20,000, the Sözcü daily reported on Friday.

With the beginning of autumn, coronavirus infection numbers are rapidly increasing all over the world, including in Turkey. Healthcare groups have been warning that Turkey is running out of hospital beds for the increasing number of patients.

According to Sözcü many foreign coronavirus patients are traveling to Turkey from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Georgia and Russia to seek treatment.

Data on private jets traveling to Turkey can be accessed on Flight Radar, an Internet-based service that shows real-time aircraft flight tracking information on a map. According to this website, air ambulances operated by the Redstar and the S.O.S. aviation companies have been making frequent flights to Turkey in recent weeks.

For example, Redstar’s Learjet 45XR model air ambulance has made five to six flights a day to Turkey over the past week.

The air ambulances travel mostly from Tbilisi, Saint Petersburg, Ohrid, Tirana and Sarajevo as well as Rome.  

It is not possible on Flight Radar to track the movement of jets leased by the Turkish Health Ministry because they are considered “government aircraft.”

There is no legal obstacle preventing a person who tested positive for the coronavirus from traveling to Turkey. Anyone who pays for the air ambulance costs, which range between $18,000 and $20,000, can travel to Turkey for COVID-19 treatment. These patients are treated at city or private hospitals.

According to a recent statement from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, the occupancy rate of intensive care units at Turkey’s hospitals currently stands at 69.9 percent.

Many countries impose travel restrictions on people from the other countries as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. They either ban the travel of individuals from high-risk countries or oblige them to submit a medical document showing they have tested negative for coronavirus or require them to remain in a 14-day quarantine following their arrival in the country. Turkey does not implement any of these measures despite the fact that the number of infections in the country is rapidly increasing.

The Turkish government has been widely criticized for failing to take effective preventative measures to contain the pandemic.

The government also does not reveal the exact number of people infected with the coronavirus every day. The Health Ministry instead announces the number of “patients” who are being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, while people who have been infected with the virus but not hospitalized are excluded from the numbers, a decision which the critics have said hides the true scale of the outbreak in the country.

Turkey identified 2,841 coronavirus patients on Thursday.

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