Pandemic death toll in Turkey much higher than official figures, healthcare workers say

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Members of medical chambers and healthcare worker unions and associations across Turkey issued statements on Friday as Turkey marked the end of second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the country’s real death toll was more than double the official figures.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been criticized for lacking transparency in its handling of the pandemic, with the credibility of the country’s coronavirus numbers having been called into question many times since the country reported its first coronavirus case on March 11, 2020.

Healthcare professionals said in statements that the country’s true COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 250,000, while official data from the Health Ministry showed it to be over 95,000.

Prof. Dr. Osman Küçükosmanoğlu, secretary-general of the İstanbul Medical Chamber, on Friday read a joint statement issued by 11 healthcare unions, associations and medical chambers titled “We Know Those Responsible for the Serious Consequences of the Pandemic” during a press conference.

“Turkey, which ranks ninth in the world with 14.5 million cases, is one of the countries most affected by the pandemic. Even according to the official figures … the death toll is over 95,000, and the real figure is more than 250,000. … Those people died of a disease that could have been prevented,” Küçükosmanoğlu said, blaming the AKP government’s policies for the high death toll.

A large group of healthcare professionals also made a press statement in front of the Health Ministry building in the capital of Ankara, with the attendance of lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Ankara Dental Chamber Chairman Serhat Özsoy, who read the statement on behalf of the group, said hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers who had to work without adequate or appropriate protective equipment and weren’t allowed to take annual leave or quit their jobs were infected, with 519 of them having died in the last two years.

In late October 2020 a circular distributed by Turkey’s Health Ministry to all 81 of the country’s provinces said healthcare workers in Turkey’s public and private institutions would not be allowed to quit during the pandemic, also suspending all annual leave as well as retirement for the medical staff during the same period. The bans stayed in place until July 2021.

“Policies were implemented [by the AKP gov’t] with the aim of profiting politically by making a ‘success story’ out of the epidemic. … From the very first day, health policies that concealed and distorted the facts … were implemented. Incomplete, wrong, inconsistent management of the pandemic then continued to darken lives,” Özsoy said, adding that they wouldn’t forgive or forget those responsible for the unsuccessful management of the pandemic.

Earlier this month Turkey lifted its requirement to wear masks outdoors and in places with sufficient ventilation and where social distancing can be maintained, requiring people to continue wearing them only in planes, buses, theaters, cinemas, hospitals and classrooms.

The country also lifted its HES (Hayat Eve Sığar — Life Fits into Home) code queries that allowed authorities to track those who have been in contact with infected people.

Turkey reported 25,401 infections on Friday and 123 deaths. Over 85 percent of the adult population has received two vaccinations, and 27.3 million people in the country of more than 84 million have been boosted.

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