Istanbul football giant Galatasaray canceled its friendly with Olympiacos of Piraeus, Greece in protest against the Greek border officials, who found the Covid-19 tests of the Turkish team and crew insufficient on July 12. The incident has added to concerns that the pandemic will gain momentum in Turkey with the tourism high season. Domestic mobility is expected to increase during the Eid al-Adha holiday that is extended to nine days give hope to the tourism industry and offer a sigh of relief to the economy in trouble. However, the long holiday worries health professionals.
Gazi University Medical Faculty Dean and Health Ministry’s Science Advisory Board member Prof. Dr. Mustafa Necmi İlhan draws attention to the fact that “the cases increased in September and October last year because the rules were not followed” during the Eid al-Adha. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, on the other hand, announced on July 13 that the number of provinces with delta variants of the Covid-19 virus increased to 36 in the last week. Koca also counted Antalya, the top tourism destination in Turkey, among the five provinces where the number of cases increased the most in the last week.
Speaking to journalists in Antalya on 10 July, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy heralded that the traffic at Antalya airport was close to 2019 levels due to the arrival of Russian tourists. Pointing out that domestic tourism increased in particular, Ersoy said some countries that still apply quarantine to their citizens coming to Turkey are being convinced to end that practice thanks to diplomatic initiatives.
As the latest example of that, Poland has lifted the one-week quarantine obligation to returnees from Turkey, reportedly thanks to the initiative taken by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, whose electoral region is also Antalya.
Sururi Çorabatır, President of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation (TÜROFED), who is also the Honorary Consul of Poland in Antalya, said but all hotels in Antalya, Ephesus and Cappadocia comply with the “Safe Tourism Certificate” health requirements, and that a PCR test is sought for tourists coming from Russia.
‘Holiday hunger’ vs. Covid-19
Çorabatır emphasizes the importance of re-boosting of tourism revenues and cash flow to the economy. Answering YetkinReport’s questions, Çorabatır said a “holiday hunger” is observed after months of lockdown, just like the rest of the world.
However, the rise in domestic tourism means an increase in traffic between people in different parts of Turkey and the holiday regions.
The travels of the Turkish citizens coming from Europe, especially Germany, to holiday destinations before or after visiting their hometowns might also add to sources of contamination.
What the Galatasaray incident tells
Yet another problem is the psychological problem in the vaccination process. The government is trying to overcome the reservations about vaccination, especially among the religious and the Kurdish population. In his speech in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on 9 July, President Tayyip Erdogan called on the people to get vaccinated. This was followed by a similar call by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, from the prison. However, slowdowns in vaccination due to the Eid al-Adha holiday are another source of concern for health professionals.
The fact that the Galatasaray team under coach Fatih Terim canceled the match against Olympiacos and returned to Turkey, points to a different reality in the tourism-pandemic equation. Compared to Greece, which also makes vaccination inquiries according to European Union rules, Turkey seems to be more disadvantageous in terms of tourism revenues but it is more vulnerable to new waves of the Covid-19 pandemic.