It has been repeatedly been alleged that the true numbers related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey were concealed by the government. The Health Ministry, which had from the start been announcing daily new “patients” of around 6,000, suddenly on Wednesday announced a whopping 28,351 infections.
Based on the announcement, Turkey ranked third in the world on Nov. 25, after the US and India.
Various reasons have been put forward for the abrupt change in policy. Most believe the situation in the country has significantly deteriorated and that the authorities have consequently decided to declare numbers closer to the reality of the situation so the public becomes more careful.
Schools in Turkey shut down at the beginning of November. The opposition and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) have called for a complete lockdown of two weeks. The government, on the other hand, does not view this suggestion favorably due to concerns about the economy.
Another allegation was raised by journalist Adnan Bulut, who said the World Health Organization (WHO) plans to distribute vaccines to countries in proportion to their case numbers and that that was the motive behind the more than fourfold increase in the Health Ministry’s numbers.
TTB refutes the new numbers as well
The TTB is of the opinion that the Health Ministry’s figure of 28,351 is not credible, either. Professor Vedat Bulut, the association’s secretary-general, said that on Nov. 25 contact tracers confirmed some 14,000 cases in Ankara alone and that a nationwide number of around 28,000 is hardly convincing.
For a long time the TTB has insisted that the Health Ministry’s announcements do not reflect reality and that the true extent of the outbreak was roughly 20 times greater than officially declared.
“The truth has the habit of revealing itself one way or another. As the TTB, we have maintained from the very beginning that we were right. I wish we were not. I wish so many people hadn’t died, that we didn’t have so many patients or lose so many health workers,” said TTB President Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
“We continue to believe that this is preventable. The ideal measures would be to restrain public movement, shut down meeting areas and halt all non-essential production for at least two, or more preferably, four weeks.”
In a statement, the TTB accused Health Minister Fahrettin Koca of being a catalyst for the spread of the pandemic by concealing the truth. The association said Koca was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, calling on him to resign.
TTB under increasing pressure
The TTB’s outspoken and harsh criticism of the Health Ministry and the government’s strategy for handling the pandemic took on new momentum two months ago with Fincancı’s election to its helm. Fincancı has a background of activism and has been tried numerous times over her human rights advocacy.
Under Fincancı’s watch, the association first revealed the contradictory nature of the Health Ministry statistics by publishing consecutive reports to that end. After that, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nationalist alliance partner Devlet Bahçeli made comments accusing Fincancı of being a terrorist.
Erdoğan said it was “unacceptable that a terrorist was elected to head the TTB.”
Nevertheless, Fincancı doubled down on the claim that the actual extent of the pandemic was 20 times greater than the official announcements.
On Nov. 20 Turkish authorities carried out the first terrorism-related operation against the TTB by detaining Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp, an honorary board member. Gökalp was subsequently arrested by a court on Nov. 23.
The TTB said Gökalp was arrested on bogus evidence. The government announced that it had started working on legislation to restrict the TTB’s legal authority.