Murat Yetkin

Journalist-Writer

Health Minister Koca’s remarks have revealed that facts about the pandemic were hidden by the government as the disaster grows. (Photo: Health Ministry)

The government officially admitted on Dec. 10 that it had been hiding the facts on the coronavirus Covid-19 disaster from the public for months. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the number of citizens infected since March 2020 was 1,748,576. This figure was announced for the first time, proving everyone who accused the government of hiding the real data true because just one day ago, on Dec. 9, the number of patients stood at 558,517. Until that day 15,751 people had died from the Covid-19 outbreak. Even the recent figure might be false as well. According to the minister, 220 citizens died on that day.  This was the highest daily toll. My father-in-law, Yalçın Poyraz, was one of those 220 people, who are not just a number.

It is the people who die, not numbers

Yalçın Poyraz was born in Ankara in 1936, his father Mr. Ahmet Poyraz was a primary school teacher. He was one of tens of thousands of children of the Republic who enjoyed the opportunities provided by the young Republic of Turkey and studied a lot to graduate from boarding schools, just like former presidents Süleyman Demirel and Turgut Özal. He was the grandson of Mehmet from Sivas, who was martyred on the Allahuekber Mountains of Sarıkamış in Turkey’s east in 1915 due to the adventurous foreign policy of the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki) of the Ottoman era, just like tens of thousands of other Mehmets, the fallen soldiers, whose graves remain unknown.

Yalçın Poyraz entered the Political Sciences faculty of Ankara, known as Mülkiye in Turkey, and worked to meet ends while studying. He also learned to speak French, German and English very well with his own means and retired as a senior management after representing Turkey’s state-owned Ziraat Bank in Germany for years. He was an intellectual who read a lot, was keen on writing and he respected the Republic and Atatürk. I commemorate him with respect.

He was diagnosed with Covit-19 at Güven Hospital and treated at Ankara City Hospital. I personally witnessed how all healthcare professionals strive and are fighting at the forefront in war against the disease. I also witnessed the high-quality services provided at Ankara City Hospital.

But the self-sacrifices of doctors and healthcare professionals could not keep Mr. Yalçın’s tired body alive.

It is the government, not healthcare workers, who is responsible for the aggravation of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Chain of wrong decisions

When the government imposed curfews and restricted closed areas such as shopping malls, schools, mosques and restaurants in April, the pandemic seemed to be brought under control and Turkey was said to be among the relatively successful countries. But thanks to the influence of tourism, trade and construction lobbies, everywhere except schools opened in June. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu was the sole cabinet member who wanted the measures to be extended for at least another week and he was rejected. The government was acting like the Covid-19 pandemic that was ravaging the world  was over in Turkey. President Tayyip Erdoğan and Health Minister Fahrettin Koca hoped that the daily death toll would drop to less than 20 in July or August.

But what happened was the opposite. The disease started to spread rapidly from the beginning of August. At that stage, President Erdoğan was saying that Turkey was seen as a success story in the global fight against the virus. However, as of October, such boasting was removed from the texts of his televised speeches. Instead, the government started to accuse the opposition parties and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) of treason because they claimed that the government was hiding the truth.

Admit the extend of the disaster

And here we are. 18,373 people died in the Marmara Earthquake on Aug. 17, 1999. If the official figures are correct, the toll was at around 16,000 as of Dec. 11 compares to that disaster and it will, unfortunately, exceed it in a few days. After the Oct. 30 Izmir earthquake, 117 people died in two days. 153 people died of the virus on those two days.

Ahead of the 1980 military coup, people had become accustomed to hearing the death toll of the clashes that drove the country toward civil war. The toll of the fight against the outlawed PKK in 1990s was announced on a daily basis. Today we are getting used to hearing the toll of the pandemic disaster every day. Shameful. People who died were one of us.

So why is there still no total lockdown in some countries despite the fact that it reduces both loss of life and economic damage? No one answers this question. I was talking to a source from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who still holds an important post. One of his family elders died of the virus. I asked him why. He is also in favor of lockdown but he just could not “make sense” of hiding the real numbers.

What happened during Eid al-Adha and Hagia Sophia opening

As mentioned above, the toll started to climb rapidly at the beginning of August, and one explanation of this came from the health minister on Nov. 25, as an on-and-off lockdown is back. “A rapid increase [in virus spread] was observed in Anatolia after the Eid al-Adha when people returned from holidays,” he said.

The Eid al-Adha holidays were between July 31 and Aug. 3. The official Science Advisory Board had suggested a restriction during the holidays. However, President Erdoğan declined, saying that on those days the citizens would sacrifice livestock as a prayer and visit each other.

One week before the Eid al-Adha, on July 24, Hagia Sophia was reopened as a mosque. Was there an obligation to open it on that day, couldn’t the ceremony wait until the pandemic eased? As Erdoğan puts it, some 350,000 people from all over Turkey gathered at one spot in Istanbul and went back on the same day. One week later, they performed the Eid prayers in the mosques in their own neighborhoods and started to pay visits to each other. Then the minister said there was a rapid increase after the Eid al-Adha. Ankara was among the cities where the number of cases increased by 100 percent.

But we are going through the days when even talking about wrong decisions that concern our health is problematic.

The vaccine privilege

I am one of those who are looking forward to the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine. I give no credit to anti-vaccination supporters.

 “I do not trust the government. I will be vaccinated if only the TTB says it is okay,” said DEVA Party leader Ali Babacan said.

And I asked the issue to TTB chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı at a live broadcast on Olay TV, while the pain of the death of my father-in-law was in my heart.

“Of course , you should have it done, everyone should.”

So I’ll be vaccinated too when it’s my turn.

But when will it be our turn? Excluding health professionals, police, and municipal workers and all others who help us stand on our feet during this disaster, when will it be the citizens’ turn? Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Murat Emir asked Minister Koca whether some people were privileged in vaccination application and whether some people with priority for the government were offered different brands of vaccines. The minister did not say a clear “No.” The vaccine was even sold in pharmacies in China, and anyone could buy it.

On the other hand, the minister was announcing that the vaccine providing was lagging? But who was lagging behind? The opposition, the TTB or the foreign powers? If only the government bureaucracy had speared some of the energy it consumed on hiding the true numbers and preventing the municipalities that tried to support the citizens, and spend it on providing vaccines for the people to end the disaster.

But unfortunately, saying “if only” does not bring back our loved ones.

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