What’s unsaid and unknown on Turkey’s corona-crisis

As the number of announced coronavirus-related deaths increased to 37 on March 23, Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca was visibly worried in the press conference. (Photo: Ministry of Health)

When it comes to the coronavirus crisis, there are things that we know and things that we don’t. Some information is given, and some left in dark.
As of the night of March 23, Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca’s statements about the course of the coronavirus epidemic in Turkey are as follows:
-As of the night of March 23, the number of coronavirus-related death in Turkey rose to 37, whilst the number of diagnoses rose to 1529.
-The curfew restriction is only valid for those over 65 years of age. It’s neither realistic nor pressing to demand the government to declare a state of emergency comprising everyone.
-Trials for a new drug, which would be sent from China and reportedly brings down the days needed for treatment from 11 to just 4, will begin on March 24.
-Fast-diagnostic test devices brought from China will be used for virus screening.
-Just as opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had suggested a few hours prior healthcare professionals will be given twice the salary during the crisis (expected, for now, to last for 3 months).
-The production of the ventilating units in Turkey will begin. Mask production is being accelerated. Some universities have signed a vaccine production protocol.
-Warehouses stockpiling masks, medicine, and other medical supplies were raided.
-Over 32 thousand new health personnel will be recruited. But taking back the personnel who were expelled from work due to government decrees — even though Kılıçdaroğlu says they should be brought back to work unless they have been convicted — was “beyond the reach” of Koca; he said that a broader decision needs to be made.
The rest is the expression of good intentions, well-wishes and metaphorical dressings for the wounds.

What about what’s not been said?

Here are the things we can deduce by reading between the lines of what has been said, also considering the experiences of other countries and the information we’ve gathered thus far:
-The Coronavirus Scientific Committee and the Ministry of Health were both unable to convince President Tayyip Erdoğan that the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 could be through a policy of generalized isolation, not only for 65+.
-Clearly, that the decision to double the salaries of healthcare professionals for three months has come up only today. It’s obvious that, following Kılıçdaroğlu’s press conference, the government wanted it to appear as though it was their independent decision in the evening news and the newspapers the next day.
-The course of the spread of the virus is the same worldwide: it touches two-thirds of the population, which would make 55 million people in Turkey’s case; out of these two thirds, 20{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} (about 11 million) are likely to become ill — out of these, 80{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} will have mild symptoms (8,8 million), around 15{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} will have a heavier illness (3.3 million) and 5{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} (1 million) will be critically ill while 3{4a62a0b61d095f9fa64ff0aeb2e5f07472fcd403e64dbe9b2a0b309ae33c1dfd} (99 thousand) will face the possibility of death. The statistical data is out there, yet we are expected to believe that the situation in Turkey is drastically different from the rest of the world. Let’s hope that the Minister is right, that our people ride this out in the best way, and Turkey emerges out of the coronavirus crisis as a successful example.
-Rumour has it in the political backstage that Koca’s press conference was penned with additions by Beşetepe Ppresidential compound text-writers, as well as certain penitentiaries in Istanbul. That the minister forgot to read out the last two lines of the last page of his speech and added them afterward once it was time to take questions, could be seen as an indicator that some parts were mounted to the speech later on.
-It’s clear that the relative sympathy that the Minister of Health has gathered as of late has disturbed some among the higher ranks of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Why else would the minister feel the need to than the President’s son-in-law and Minister of Tresury and Finance Berat Albayrak four times in one hour? Albayrak, after all, isn’t giving his own money and what’s more, the cabinet in question is named after Erdogan. As the Health Minister was announcing the bonuses for healthcare workers, his tongue slipped and he said “our loss is 1,5 billion liras ($230mln)” per month; this must have not been his own words, for he then immediately corrected himself by saying “the cost” instead, before thanking Albayrak once again. And as though this weren’t enough, Albayrak felt the need to also announce that this initiative would cost a total of 4,5 billion liras ($690 mln) and that it was all his work.
-It’s also speculated in the political backstage that the Minister of National Education, Ziya Selçuk, has recently been under attack by certain groups within AKP for having garnered some sympathy lately. It’s suggested that the animated cartoon showing kids the execution of prime minister Adnan Menderes by the military coup in 1960, issued on the very first day of the long-distance learning program was “internal sabotage”. In-between the lines, Selçuk says that he has been plotted against by the very people he trusted.

What we know

-The figures about the illness issued in Turkey show the number of “positive” test results. But not the masses are tested. Despite all warnings by the Turkish Union of Medical Doctors (TTB), screenings aren’t made to detect the virus but only made when patients show up to hospitals with certain symptoms. With few tests, naturally, we end up with the low figures that the government announces. In the example of Aytaç Yalman,the retired land forces commander for example, although he passed away due to COVID-19, the hospital wrote “pneumonia” on his death record. The Minister of Health confirmed this by stating that rapid diagnostic devices from China will be used for detection purposes as of March 24.
-China, which was the source of the epidemic, had managed to control the epidemic through an uncompromising curfew in Wuhan. South Korea has issued restrictions comprising young people in particular, in addition to older nationals because even if young people get less sick, they can still be carriers. Italy and Spain imposed curfews when it was already too late, and France followed suit. Israel declared a week-long complete ban. Finally, the UK, which hadn’t taken the epidemic too seriously until recently, announced on the night of March 23 that a curfew would be implemented.
-Citizens over the age of 65, who make up almost a tenth of society and who, when convenient, are referred to as “our elders” have been subjected to ridicule and exclusion. The majoritarian mindset always feels obliged to choose an “other” to marginalize. Young people, on the other hand, who are the real carriers, are seen out and about in picnics, dancing at weddings and hugging each other in soldier farewells.
-The government persistently avoids implementing an inclusive isolation policy that doesn’t exclude anyone. However, we do know that the Coronavirus Scientific Community and the Minister of Health are in favor of tighter isolation measures.
-It’s also more or less predicted that the economic troubles that are increasing with the coronavirus epidemic may force Erdogan to make the tough decisions of getting the Central Bank to run the mint and bring more money into the system despite the risk of worsening existing inflation.
-It was announced that the AKP delegation would meet with CHP and Good Party (GP) too, following its meeting with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has the third-largest group in the Turkish Grand Assembly, is excluded by the government once again. The topic of the discussion is which prisoners will be released due to the coronavirus.

What we don’t know

-AKP and MHP are in favor of the evacuation of those not convicted of “terrorist crimes”. However, it’s well known that MHP is in favor of releasing heads of criminal organizations and their members, such as Alaattin Çakıcı, whom MHP leader Bahçeli considers “children of our land” and “victims of destiny”. However, political convicts ranging from Osman Kavala to Selahattin Demirtaş, as well as journalists such as Barış Terkoğlu and Barış Pehlivan, who were arrested latest, are considered terrorists. Furthermore, a penalty reduction is being considered for sexual assault criminals. What we don’t know is whether Kavala, Demirtaş and other politicians and journalists will be kept in prison while rapists, drug dealers, and the mafia members are released.
-There was a law proposal for penalty increase against those who subject healthcare professionals, those people who are currently selflessly working in the frontlines in the fight against coronavirus, to unjust violence. Now that the Grand National Assembly (TGNA) is to convene to discuss such issues, will that law proposal be accepted too? Or will it be ignored and cast aside from the agenda by AKP and MHP votes simply because it was a CHP proposal? Minister Koca said that performance criteria will not be taken not account when giving bonuses to healthcare professionals give some legal ground for the proposal to work but the situation, nevertheless, remains unclear.
-The most important of the things we don’t know is why Erdogan and his close entourage is so against the idea of imposing a general curfew when it’s the first factor in slowing the spread of the disease. Is it because there is an obligation to cooperate with the army during a curfew? Is it because they don’t want to further lose the support of tradesmen? Is it because this measure would put too much ideological strain on the government, especially after the pause of jamaah prayers in mosques? Why?
We are facing a disaster the cost of which s human life. We need to have solidarity. Why be so timid in taking the necessary steps? This is the biggest unknown.


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