Daily new COVID-19 cases in Turkey remained at over 8,000 on July 21 as images of vacationers at crowded beaches, bars and restaurants and large family gatherings to celebrate Eid dominated social media .
The July 21 figure of 8,151 was a drop from the previous day’s tally of 8,780 new cases, but was still nearly double the number of daily new cases, 4,418, recorded on July 4. The increase comes amid concerns about the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The number of Delta variant cases in Turkey has more than doubled to around 750, from 284 in the space of a week, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned on July 12.
Koca, a prolific tweeter who issues terse warnings through his account, which has 7.3 million subscribers, shared the news of the outbreak on July 20. “Eid should not provide an opportunity for the virus to spread. We both can celebrate [Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice] and to remain vigilanthe tweeted, urging vacationers to refrain from large gatherings and get vaccinated while on vacation, rather than wait.
In Van, vaccination units have been set up in the courtyards of local mosques to administer doses to people who have come to places of worship for morning Eid prayers.
Turkey launched a mass vaccination campaign on January 14, first with Sinovac and then with Pfizer. The country has administered nearly 64 million doses, including third boosters of the Pfizer vaccine, which are believed to provide better protection against the more infectious Delta variant.
The Turkish Medical Association said it had repeatedly warned the government against the Delta variant for weeks, but to no avail. “In its efforts to boost tourism, Turkey not only relaxed anti-pandemic restrictions too quickly, but also allowed tourists from countries with a high percentage of Delta variant to enter Turkey without adequate medical checks and the requirement. in their forties, “said Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci on July 21 on Halk TV in reference to Russian tourists who arrived in Antalya this summer. Antalya has received around 307,000 Russian tourists in the past two weeks, according to official data.
She added that new cases of the coronavirus were around “9,000” and that the government “systematically downplayed the numbers of the Delta variant, especially in the southern provinces where there were foreign tourists.”
“We know from the ground that the Delta variant – as well as the number of global cases – has shown an increase in Antalya,” Dr Lutfi Camli, president of the Izmir Medical Association, told Al-Monitor. “Given the massive tourist movement in coastal areas, we can expect a new wave of COVID-19 and variants after Eid and a fourth wave as early as August, according to many academics. “
Turkey has succeeded in reducing new daily cases of COVID-19 from around 60,000 in April to around 4,000 in June by closing restaurants, shops and cafes, imposing curfews on weekends and by continuing a mass vaccination campaign, but health ministry officials fear the numbers will surge as a result of the holiday rallies.
“Stay away closed and overcrowded environments. … It is nice to be united but you don’t want to leave the holidays infected with COVID-19, ”Koca said on July 19 as Turkey embarked on the Eid al-Adha holiday.
But most vacationers had either flocked to overcrowded resorts or had gone to their hometowns to celebrate Eid with their families by then, following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement on July 12 that the ‘Eid (July 20-24) would be linked to the previous weekend. . After a long winter and spring confined at home marked by curfews and restrictions, many people hit the road for a change of scenery as early as July 15 (a holiday commemorating the failed coup of 2016 ) to start an 11-day vacation that would also include Eid al-Adha and the weekends before and after.
Meanwhile, TV channels showed footage of crowded beaches and bars, saying most of the country’s popular coastal towns were now full.
“People think that now that the bans have not been in place since July 1 and the vaccination campaign continues, everything is back to normal. It’s wrong, ”Camli said. “Only 22% of Turks received their second dose of the jab. We are far from the 70-75% of the population who received two doses, which is necessary to achieve collective immunity. public health and opening everything up so as not to miss the tourist season will have serious consequences, both in the immediate and in the medium term.
His concerns were shared by medical chambers in other vacation towns. Cafer Sahin – the chairman of the medical chamber in Mugla, the capital of the southwestern province of the same name where resorts such as Bodrum and Marmaris are located – said that although vaccination levels were high in his town , the presence of tourists from all over Turkey risked causing an upsurge and / or the Delta variant.
The number of people in Bodrum – a popular resort town in southwestern Anatolia known for its vibrant nightlife and site of ancient Halikarnassus – has reached 1 million, more than five times its usual number of 181,000 Cesme, a popular resort on the Aegean Sea attached to Izmir, also reached 1 million, more than 20 times its usual 46,000. The municipality sought to provide a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) between bathers by demarcating spaces with ropes on its huge public beach. Some beach goers, however, have simply removed the dividers.
“Half a million cars have entered Cesme since the start of the week,” Mayor Ekrem Oran told reporters. “All hotel and guesthouse accommodation has been booked and the locals, especially the hotel industry, are very happy.”
Oran, a native of Izmir who has spent most of his summers in Cesme since he was a child, said he had never seen the city so crowded in 50 years.
“I have never seen Cesme as crowded as this,” Bahar Tolle, a Turkish-German pharmacist who visited her parents in Cesme, told Al-Monitor. “We are very careful when we go out, wearing masks and keeping away from the crowds, but very few people do. So we go to the beach early in the morning and come back before it gets too crowded.
Although local tourists provide a balm for the struggling industry, the real cure for the hospitality industry is the return of at least some of the foreign tourists. This seems unlikely at this time, however, as the European Union has maintained its restrictions on non-essential travel to Turkey due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK government also announced on July 14 that it would keep Turkey on its “red list” for international travel, which means travelers will be subject to a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine. pay themselves when they return to the UK. . The UK government reviews the traffic light system every three weeks and orders people not to travel to “red” countries except for extremely essential reasons.
Turkey’s tourism industry hoped the UK would remove Turkey from the red list following the mass vaccination campaign.
With tourism accounting for 3.8% of its gross domestic product and 7.7% of its jobs, Turkey has struggled to attract tourists by developing a safe tourism certification program for its hotels and restaurants and prioritizing vaccination members of the hotel industry.
“I promise you that whoever sees a tourist will be vaccinated,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told his German counterpart Heiko Maas on 6 May, angering many Turks. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture has also been criticized after posting a promotional video in English on social media where tourism workers wore masks that read: “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated”.