Turkey to lift COVID-19 restrictions amid Delta variant fears

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With Turkey planning to remove virtually all restrictions introduced to contain the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, physicians have drawn attention to the rising number of cases of the Delta variant, urging the government to speed up its vaccination program, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.

The doctors are particularly concerned about the stability of daily case numbers; the Delta variant, which first appeared in India and is reportedly 60 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant or the original virus; and the failure to achieve “herd immunity” in Turkey as the country will lift many restrictions including curfews and the prohibition of inter-city travel on July 1.

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) and its decision to abolish virtually all COVID-19 restrictions raises questions about the country’s preparedness for large-scale normalization.

“We can handle this only if we step up measures and speed up inoculations. Otherwise, we will inevitably see another wave in the fall,” Turkish Doctors Union (TTB) Vice President Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ali İhsan Ökten said.

The rising trend in the Delta variant in Turkey was confirmed by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who said: “No case of the Delta Plus variant has been reported, but the Delta variant is on the rise. The 138 cases I had previously reported has now risen to 224.”

Koca also said the number of provinces where the Delta variant was reported rose from 16 to 26, with majority of the cases (134) in Istanbul, stressing the need to get as many people as possible vaccinated in the shortest time in order to “lower the spread of the Delta variant” and to “save the country from the pandemic.”

“More than 15 million people have received both doses of the vaccine, while 34 million have gotten a single dose,” Minister Koca said.

Turkey had recently lowered the age of the people eligible for vaccination to 18.

Koca also announced that sports competitions can be held with restrictions on the number of spectators.

Regarding a ban on live music performances after midnight, which had sparked criticism from musicians and entertainers, Koca said: “We would like to abolish all restrictions. This ban, too, will be lifted.”

The health minister further announced that the government’s science committee would discuss lowering the period between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from six to four weeks and whether to give people over 60 as well as health workers a booster shot in an effort to fight off the Delta variant.

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