Thousands may have been infected with coranavirus during Hagia Sophia reopening - health expert

Some 3,000 people are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus during the reopening ceremony at Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia on July 24, a Turkish public health expert at a leading university said on Saturday.

The presence of hundreds of asymptomatic patients in the reconversion ceremony last month is likely to lead to a large-scale infection, ANKA news agency quoted associate professor at Ankara’s Hacettepe University, Dr Sarp Üner, as saying. 

“A simple calculation shows that there would be 1,000 patients there… If we consider the transmission rate, those patients would have infected between 2,000 to 3,000 others,’’ Üner said. “I believe that the gathering will increase the cases in Istanbul.’’

Turkey held an elaborate ceremony for the reconversion of the 6th century site into a mosque last month after the country’s top administrative court annulled on July 10 a 1934 decree that turned the Byzantine monument into a museum. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan within hours issued a decree to re-convert the site into a mosque, in a move that was met with international condemnation, and the first Friday prayers were held there on July 24 by thousands, including top level state officials.

Guests were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing with only 1,000 VIP guest allowed into the site. Others performed the historic prayer in the courtyard and surrounding areas, where social distancing was not observed.