Turkish health minister apologizes over crowded funeral of Islamic scholar amid pandemic

Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Wednesday issued an apology over a crowded funeral ceremony he attended for a prominent Islamic scholar, which violated coronavirus restrictions.

''I would like to apologise to citizens for the appearance that emerged during the funeral,’’ Birgün newspaper cited Koca as saying, referring to the Islamic funeral ceremony held for Muslim scholar Emin Saraç in Istanbul on Sunday.

The farewell ceremony for the Islamic scholar of hadith at Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque drew out large crowds that failed to follow social distancing measures, sparking fury on social media.

''I could not foresee that social distancing would be disregarded and such a scene would emerge during the funeral,’’ the country’s top health official added. ''But I should have.’’

Video footage that circulated on Twitter showed hundreds packed together in a tight space ahead of and during the ritual prayer for Saraç, which was also attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey is set to begin returning to normal life on a province-by-province basis from March, but there is currently an array of restrictions in effect, including nationwide weekend lockdowns, reduced hours restaurants and cafes and limitations on social gatherings.

Koca also said that he would address reports of Turkey receiving one million free doses of the Chinese Sinovac coronavirus vaccine in a press conference on Thursday.

''There is nothing that we cannot account for,’’ the health minister said. 

Earlier this week, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said the government had received one million doses of the vaccine from China free of charge, while a pharmaceutical company billed the State Supply Office.

 Anoka news agency on Tuesday published proof the claim in the way of a customs certificate.