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Doubts grow over reliability of Turkey’s COVID-19 figures

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The credibility of Turkey’s coronavirus numbers have been called into question once again as the Health Ministry has been alleged to have stopped sending mortality statistics to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) during the pandemic so as to hide the true number of virus-related fatalities.

The Cumhuriyet daily on Monday reported, citing Birol Aydemir, former head of TurkStat and deputy chairman of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), that TurkStat recently postponed the announcement of mortality figures for 2018-2020, which are expected to shed light on the country’s actual coronavirus death toll, because they hadn’t received the relevant data from the ministry.

On September 16 TurkStat released a written statement informing that the “life tables for 2018-2020,” which refers to the mortality statistics of that period and is planned to be released on September 17, had been postponed to a later date since “the studies on the administrative registers of related institutions from which the statistics are produced have not yet been completed.”

“The Health Ministry stopped the data flow to TurkStat during the pandemic. … They did it in order not to share [with the public] the correct information regarding the number of coronavirus-related deaths. Both the Health Ministry and TurkStat are failing to do their duty. They both are violating the law,” Aydemir said.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey in March 2020, there have been widespread doubts about the accuracy of the coronavirus statistics reported by the Health Ministry. Critics have said the ministry was reporting lower numbers of infection and death to mask the true scale of the pandemic in the country. Many family members of coronavirus victims have written on social media that coronavirus was not cited as the cause of the death on their loved ones’ death certificates although they died of COVID-19.

Some opposition party mayors also disputed the figures announced by the ministry as they revealed the daily coronavirus death toll in their respective provinces, which was sometimes close, sometimes higher than the total death toll reported by the ministry for the entire country.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Vice Chairperson Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi on Monday told the Birgün daily that the COVID-19 death toll in 21 CHP-run municipalities between March 2020 and August 2021 was higher than what the official figures show for the whole country in the same period.

According to the figures shared by İlgezdi, the COVID-19 death toll in 21 Turkish provinces since the start of the outbreak is 64,797, while the Health Ministry data show the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the whole country in the same period as 56,710.

“How can the death toll in 21 provinces be 8,087 higher than that of the whole country [81 provinces]? … If the [21] municipalities’ figures are applied to the entire country, it can be concluded that 132,851 people may have died of the virus in total. The data of the ministry, which has been far from transparent since the beginning of the pandemic, has become even more unreliable,” İlgezdi added.

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