Turkey ends remaining pandemic measures as more than 200 people die daily

Children wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, walk in Kugulu public garden, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

On Wednesday, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government lifted remaining measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and public health experts denounced the move.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced the decision at a press conference after the government’s so-called “Scientific Council” meeting. “I would like to say that the corona is affecting Turkey less at the moment,” he said, before adding: “For a while, we have been announcing to you that the corona is not on the agenda. We removed some restrictions when we realized the outbreak was going to be over.

Koca’s statement and recent rulings are not based on science or the protection of public health, but on the profit interests of the capitalist ruling class and are intended to divert public attention from the continued massive infections and deaths. .

While the Erdoğan government has declared that “coronavirus is not on the agenda”, echoing similar statements by governments around the world, the official daily number of new cases is over 60,000 and the number daily death toll has not fallen below 200 for over a month.

The total number of deaths that could have been prevented by taking the necessary public health measures during the pandemic now exceeds 95,000, and excess deaths have reached 269,000, according to a calculation by Güçlü Yaman, a member of the pandemic task force. of the TTB. While the political responsibility for this policy of infection and mass death lies primarily with the government, the bourgeois opposition parties and trade unions in Turkey support this policy and are also politically involved.

The government’s ‘end of the pandemic’ statement comes as Russia has invaded Ukraine and NATO is heading for war against Russia. Turkey risks being quickly dragged into the war: a member of NATO, it is a neighbor of the two countries and controls the strait between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Along with the war crisis, the Erdoğan government faces growing opposition from the working class to the rising cost of living and social inequality in the country. In February, the official annual inflation reached 54%, while the independent inflation research group (ENAGroup) announced that the real rate was 123%. While dozens of wildcat strikes broke out in 2022 involving around 25,000 workers, doctors and other healthcare workers have repeatedly struck for higher wages and benefits. Healthcare workers are to stage a three-day nationwide strike starting March 14.

According to the new regulations, while the wearing of the outer mask is abolished, “if the ventilation is sufficient and there is [social] distancing, it is no longer necessary to wear a mask inside. According to Health Minister Koca, the requirement to mask up in closed areas will be limited to planes, buses, theaters, health facilities and schools. Since there is no official ventilation control, this step clears the way for de facto removal of the masking obligation in all indoor places.

Koca also announced that the official contact tracing (HES) app has been removed and people who do not show signs of illness will not be tested. As a result, control of the HES code will no longer be possible anywhere, and those infected or exposed will be able to travel everywhere.

Removing remaining measures in schools puts children at increased risk. According to the Minister of Health, “in cases where two infections are detected, it is not necessary to close a classroom. Students who test positive will be isolated and education will continue. Keeping schools open amid a deadly pandemic is seen as essential for parents to continue to visit factories and workplaces to create profits for the corporate and financial elite no matter what. the cost in lives.

Denying any objective scientific fact and the insistence of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the pandemic is continuing, Koca said: “When a person says the pandemic is not over or the pandemic is over, the concrete reality does not change. The pandemic has lost its effect, it is a visible truth. We must prevent the pandemic from being the main criterion of daily life.

He said, “We must move from the period of fighting the pandemic through restrictions as a society to the stage of protecting individuals against disease”, effectively announcing that his government had stopped pretending to fight against the disease. pandemic.

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) strongly condemned the government’s new regulations at a press conference on Thursday. “The decisions announced are a harbinger of more infections and deaths,” he said, adding, “This step is a continuation of state policies that have ignored public health from the start. of the pandemic, but prioritized economic concerns.”

He noted that an average of 251 people lost their lives to COVID-19 in February, according to official data, which is a gross underestimate. At least 40% of all deaths in Turkey during the two-year pandemic have occurred in the past six months.

The TTB said that despite Minister Koca’s claim to “fight with vaccination” against COVID-19, daily vaccination rates have fallen to record lows (less than 100,000 per day). He added: “The number of preventable deaths of our citizens that are considered acceptable in our country, where there is no adequate vaccine protection, must be addressed.”

While only 32% of the population in Turkey has received a booster dose, vaccination authorization has not yet been issued for children under 12 years old.

Stressing that “the Ministry of Health violates the right to life with these decisions”, the TTB urged the public to complete their vaccinations, take the necessary measures, such as masking, social distancing and ventilation, and to “increase the requirements to take measures [against the pandemic] based on science.

After Koca’s announcement, Professor Dr Mehmet Ceyhan, President of the Infectious Diseases Association, wrote on Twitter: “We are trying a new path in the fight against the pandemic: the period without measures. Our third dose vaccination rate is 32%, the number of active cases (number of people with transmission potential) is 616,964.” Ceyhan said the daily case count was 60,000, but only 10% of cases could be detected because there was no mass testing.

Yesterday, Ceyhan also pointed out that the abolition of measures in New Zealand had led to a public health disaster. He wrote: “New Zealand, an island country. While they were among the countries that had the best control over COVID with very strict measures, they relaxed the measures. The result: they are breaking new case records every day.

In New Zealand, which has a population of 5 million, more than 23,000 cases were detected on March 3 and at least 146,000 people are currently infected. Until October 2021, when the New Zealand government began lifting public health measures, the total number of cases was no more than 4,300 and only 27 people had died in total. As of March 3, the total number of cases exceeded 166,000 and the death toll reached 63.

This confirms the principle position of the World Socialist Websitewho opposes the end of the elimination strategy in New Zealand and advocates the establishment of a global Zero COVID strategy.

As the Socialist Equality Group (New Zealand) stated in its October statement: “The struggle for elimination now depends directly on building a movement of the working class, which is the only strength of the society that has no interest in defending capitalism. profits at the cost of endless deaths. …Workers must build new organizations that they control, to mount a global fightback against the murderous policies of the ruling elite.

Sharon P. Juarez