The Turkish government announced on Friday that it has temporarily banned arrivals from the UK after reporting that 15 cases of a new and potentially more contagious COVID-19 variant were detected in travelers from the United Kingdom.
“In investigating the mutation from the UK, the new COVID-19 variant was detected in 15 people who entered from the UK. Entries from the UK have now been temporarily suspended,” Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in a tweet.
“The 15 travelers have been isolated, as have those with whom they were in contact. No other cases of the COVID-19 variant have been detected in nationwide regular screenings. The situation is under control,” Koca added.
On Dec. 20, Turkey temporarily halted flights from the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and South Korea in an effort to prevent the new strain of the coronavirus from spreading to the country.
The government also identified and quarantined 4,603 airline passengers who arrived from the UK on or after Dec. 14 and began last week to require a negative PCR test result for all international arrivals.
Turkey has among the worst infection rates in the world, but official statistics show the seven-day average of daily infections has dropped to around 15,000 from above 30,000 since evening curfews and weekend lockdowns were instituted in early December.
According to official data, the COVID-19 death toll in Turkey rose by 212 to 21,093 within the last 24 hours.
The number of new cases stood at 12,203 over the same period, bringing total cases to more than 2.22 million since the virus struck in March 2020.
“The number of active cases and critical patients continues to decrease. Our losses have started to fall. It will further decrease with the drop in the number of critical patients,” Koca said on Friday, expressing his belief that the destructive effect of the epidemic would ease.
The current lockdown in the country will be lifted at 5 a.m. local time on Monday, although Ankara has also imposed weekday curfews and limited restaurants and cafes to delivery and take-out service.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been criticized for failing to competently manage the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing the pandemic to get out of control by not reporting the real number of infected people as well as lagging behind other countries in beginning COVID-19 inoculations.
The first batch of experimental COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, which was ordered by Ankara despite widespread concerns about its safety, arrived in Turkey on Wednesday after a two-week delay.