Gönenç Gürkaynak

Attorney, Istanbul Bar, New York Bar, Law Society of England and Wales. Twitter: @GurkaynakGonenc

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No, it isn’t here.
No. There is no Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Turkey. This is a tremendous achievement by the Ministry of Health. Let me begin by congratulating them on their success. There isn’t a single Coronavirus case in Turkey, even though all surrounding countries have them, including our Western neighbor Greece, with its 11 million population has 66 recorded cases despite not sharing any borders with Iran. In Iran, Turkey’s Eastern neighbor, there are already hundreds of deaths from the virus. The fact that there hasn’t been a single Coronavirus positive case recorded in Turkey when the total number of cases worldwide has exceeded 110,000 at the time of publication, is a notable success.

Exemplary success

It would be useful to diagnose the secret of such success as soon as possible and provide a positive example to the rest of the world. What are we doing right? What are they failing at? We might be washing our hands better than the rest of the world. Could we really? We could. And besides, there is this thing we tend to do, firmly shaking our hands dry three times after each handwash. Maybe that is effective, too.

Just a tangential pass?

Besides, it seems like, through systematic and careful planning, we have ensured that the virus has merely passed us by tangentially. You must have heard that, sometimes, countries that receive flights originating in Turkey might diagnose Coronavirus cases amongst the people on those very flights. These are all passengers who have arrived from other countries and then took transit flights to other countries through Turkey. But, with our “They shall leave as they come” attitude, I understand that we simply let them pass through, even though we do detect the virus—since, if we didn’t, our current “zero declared Coronavirus cases” status would be at stake. My understanding is that we merely host them at our airports, observe their Coronavirus status and admit them to our country momentarily, and then swiftly accompany them to their onward flights. Naturally, the time that these passengers spend at our airports or on the plane alongside Turkish passengers could be a little problematic, but ultimately, we must remember that these are all individuals who are in the process of leaving the country and traveling away from Turkey. And it would be difficult to prevent these tangential cases.

The will of the virus

Perhaps the virus has never even entered our country from the outside. This is a possibility. We should also look into the reasons underlying our potential success on this front. We can’t realistically claim that we have excellent control of our borders, surely. We are, after all, living in a lively and active geographic region, where there is constant movement across the borders. Especially the borders with Syria and Iran. In any case, even if we assume that we are especially ingenious and more resourceful than any other nation has ever been with respect to preserving its borders, we would surely hear about dozens of cases in which people were turned away at our borders due to suspected or confirmed Coronavirus diagnoses. Just think; if we have weathered a serious crisis thanks to the efforts of the public authorities, we would have heard about it. It would have been announced. But we’re not bombarded with news of such narrowly averted calamities, or a constant barrage of Coronavirus cases being turned away at the border, either. Therefore, we have to conclude that the Coronavirus is neither already in our midst nor trying to enter the country from the outside. Perhaps the virus has realized that we in Turkey have already been wrestling with so many intractable problems and decided to leave us alone. Maybe, the virus simply doesn’t want to add another burden on Turkey’s shoulders.

Human will

If the virus will theory doesn’t seem plausible, then perhaps it’s the will of human beings that’s shielding us from the Coronavirus. Since we’re not hearing about Coronavirus positive individuals that are stopped or turned away at the border, and if we put aside the possibility of the virus having a will of its own, then maybe our country is simply not appealing enough for people who are carrying the Coronavirus. This makes perfect sense. People who have fevers and exhibit flu-like symptoms would want to stay at home, get in bed, and rest. This would explain why such a person wouldn’t want to hop on a plane and come to Turkey. But what about the countries that did get Coronavirus cases through travel? Those cases must have something to do with the people visiting those countries being rich know-it-alls. If such wealthy people who can’t be stopped from traveling even by a serious illness aren’t interested in traveling to our country, then surely, the virus will not be able to make its way here. Take the tourist who enjoys the skiing season in Northern Italy. Is that the same kind of tourist that we get here in Turkey? No, it surely isn’t. So, it makes sense.

The fruits of ingenuity

All of this is well and good. But, come tourism season, will we be able to see an especially positive impact from our extraordinary achievement regarding this virus issue? Nobody outside Turkey believes that there isn’t a single Coronavirus case in Turkey. I’ve spoken to dozens of people from Paris, London, Stockholm, New York, Prague, Munich, and Madrid, ever since this outbreak started. They didn’t share my excitement when I showed them the map in which every country in our neighborhood except Turkey exhibited dozens or even hundreds of positive cases, and Turkey was still marked as “zero.”

I wish our country had a long and proud tradition of prioritizing transparency in government and public services. Imagine if our press was one that writes freely and openly about every single issue. Wouldn’t it be great if our governance system were renowned for its accountability? And if freedom of expression were at its peak, and if every part of society and every single individual could make their voice heard about every issue that mattered to them? If we lived in such a country, at an extraordinary time like this, when we are writing an exceptional success story in the field of public health that should provide an example to the whole world, we would also be able to reap the economic benefits of our success. That way, no one abroad would make unfounded assumptions and reach their own conclusions about the Coronavirus in Turkey. “They speak nothing but the truth”, they would have said. The credibility we would have garnered throughout the years would have worked to our advantage. And, with the same transparency that we were already known for, we would then be able to disclose and explain the secrets of this astonishing Coronavirus achievement to them, which appears to be statistically borderline miraculous. And thus, people all around the world would be able to learn from us and be better informed in their fight against this disease, therefore lowering our risk factor, as well. That would have been nice.