Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bragged about how packed the crowd was in an indoor meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) as he continued to give speeches to AKP members in a series of meetings in defiance of warnings by the health minister, who advises the public to avoid indoor gatherings.
“We are having a convention in the middle of the pandemic, and the auditorium is jam-packed,” Erdoğan boasted on Monday in the northwestern city of Rize.
According to Health Ministry data, the pandemic ravaged Rize during the past week as the city was second only to neighboring Trabzon with more than 200 cases per 100,000 coronavirus cases recorded between Feb. 8 and 14.
Turkish social media users criticized Erdoğan for his double standards as restrictions do not allow businesses to remain open while the AKP is able to proceed with conventions.
Lokantalar, kafeler kapalı. Esnaf pandemi dolayısıyla evine ekmek dahi götüremiyor. AKP’nin Genel Başkanı Erdoğan ise İl kongrelerinde, "Salgının olduğu bir dönemde kongre yapıyoruz ve Rize'de salon lebalep dolu"diyor.
AKP'ye herşey serbest, Pandemi sadece vatandaşa var. pic.twitter.com/dtpHqUiMpm
— Gizem Özcan (@gizemozcanchp) February 15, 2021
“Restaurants and cafes are closed. Business owners can’t earn a living,” a user wrote, “Everything is allowed for the AKP. The pandemic only has repercussions for the ordinary citizen.”
Turkey reported the first coronavirus case on March 11, relatively later than other countries in Europe. From July to the end of November, the Turkish government made public only the comparatively small number of COVID-19 “patients” with symptoms, excluding people with no symptoms and who didn’t require hospitalization. In the wake of growing criticism, the Health Ministry in late November began to report the number of all individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The reporting of all coronavirus cases in Turkey, which numbered some 30,000 a day at the time, caused the country jump from one of the least-affected countries to the sixth most affected in the world back in December.
Turkey’s medical community and opposition parties accuse the Turkish government of manipulating the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country in order to mask the true scale of the pandemic and present a “success story” to the public.
As of Feb. 15, Turkey had confirmed more than 2.59 million COVID-19 cases, 27,562 fatalities and over 2.48 million recoveries. The country began a COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Jan. 14, starting with health care workers along with top officials to encourage public confidence in the vaccine.