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At least 55,000 COVID-19 deaths in Turkey went unregistered: report

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In a development that casts further doubt over the transparency of Turkey’s reporting of its coronavirus cases, a recent report from a leading medical group in the country revealed that 55,000 COVID-19 deaths did not go into the official records in Turkey in 2020, the Diken news website reported.

At least 75,000 people aged 65 and above died of COVID-19 in 2020 although the official death toll was 20,000, according to the report released by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) on Tuesday, which pointed to a discrepancy in the figures. 

“In 2020 at least 55,000 deaths from COVID-19 were not reported as being due to COVID-19,” said the TTB’s report, titled “COVID-19 Pandemic 18-Month Evaluation Report.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Turkey in March 2020, there have been widespread doubts about the accuracy of the 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.

The TTB’s report employed five approaches to make estimates on the real COVID-19 death toll, using various resources such as demographic data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) and municipal burial statistics from the e-government system.

“When TurkStat’s age distribution data for Turkey’s population are analyzed, the number of people aged 65 and above declined by 309,000 on average annually during the last four years, but the decline in the number of these people was 411,000 in 2020. The difference, which is approximately 100,000 people, corresponds to extra deaths,” the report said.

The report further noted that Turkey’s population increased by 889,000 on average annually between 2015 and 2019, but the increase in 2020 was just 657,000, with a difference of 232,000.

“We believe one quarter of the extra deaths that occurred in 2020 were due to non-COVID-19 factors,” the report said, adding: “In 2020, at least 25,000 died because of decreasing referral and access to healthcare services, disruptions in healthcare services, worsening chronic diseases due to weeks-long curfews, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and suicides. The Health Ministry reported one-fifth of extra deaths in 2020 and half of them between Jan. 1,2021 and Sept. 14, 2021. Even these figures are enough to show that extra deaths are continuing to increase in 2021.”

In June TurkStat decided to postpone the announcement of mortality figures for 2020, which are expected to shed light on the country’s actual coronavirus death toll.

In September the Cumhuriyet daily reported, citing Birol Aydemir, former head of TurkStat and deputy chairman of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), that TurkStat recently postponed the announcement because they hadn’t received the relevant data from the ministry.

“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.

The TTB’s report urged TurkStat to announce the statistics on deaths and causes of death in order to make better estimates.

“The practice of keeping fatality statistics secret must be abandoned. If the Health Ministry releases correct figures for ill people and deaths, we can take better measures knowing at which jobs, places or individuals face greater risks,” the report said.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey increased by 30,862, and 223 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data released on Tuesday.

Turkey has administered over 114.4 million vaccinations since launching a campaign in January. To date, some 55 million people have received their first dose, and more than 47.6 million have received two shots, while approximately 11 million have been given three shots, according to the ministry.

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