A volunteer journalist collective has cited in its latest documentary claims by a Turkish doctor and a senior bureaucrat that Turkey’s Health Ministry announced the country’s first coronavirus case nearly two months after the actual COVID-19 outbreak.
The half-hour video documentary published late on Tuesday by 140journos quoted a bureaucrat who spoke on condition of anonymity and Dr. Ergin Koçyıldırım, an assistant professor at McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, as saying that Turkey saw its first COVID-19 case as early as January 2020.
Koçyıldırım claimed that although Turks were far from thinking the virus would spread in Turkey back in January 2020, the Health Ministry confirmed after testing some patients that they were infected with COVID-19.
“But something interesting happened there. Health Minister [Fahrettin Koca], acting on his own initiative, recorded the results of these tests as negative. I think the minister took a great risk,” the bureaucrat said.
Koçyıldırım further alleged that some patients’ condition worsened and others died of the virus in Turkey in late January 2020, while the ministry continued to keep the public in the dark about the cases and only announced the first case on March 11, 2020.
Referring to Turkey’s recording its first COVID-19 case a week after the International Monetary Fund announced a $50 billion aid package to help those countries battling the pandemic, Koçyıldırım added: “We were joking among friends that this would happen, and it actually did.”
140journos also cited the bureaucrat as stating that the ministry had had to make the announcement because health personnel started to express their discomfort with the increasing number of cases, and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) began to reveal its own figures.
The bureaucrat also claimed in the documentary that there was a conflict between Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Koca, with the former having “critical files” as evidence against the latter, proving that the Health Ministry had been hiding data regarding the true scale of the pandemic.
“The politicians in Ankara have business connections. Soylu and his brother are doing business in the medical sector. Therefore, as you can see, the conflict between the two sides is massive,” he added.
Koca admitted to hiding the true COVID-19 figures in a bombshell revelation in October, saying that the government did not add the number of people infected with the coronavirus who are asymptomatic to the final statistics, prompting outrage among the Turkish public.
“Not every coronavirus case is a COVID-19 patient. Some do not show symptoms. We do not publish the number of cases. We publish the number of patients,” the minister said, drawing the criticism of many who held him responsible for the spread of the virus in the country by hiding the true numbers.
In the wake of growing criticism, the ministry in late November began to report the number of all individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus.