Erdoğan, Putin discuss COVID-19 pandemic, tourism

(Updated with remarks from health minister)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday discussed the battle against COVID-19 and Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, which will soon be used in Turkey, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Putin expressed in a phone call Russia’s readiness to begin deliveries to Turkey of the Sputnik V vaccine this month, it said. 

Earlier this week, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced that the country would acquire 50 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine within the next six months, in addition to 90 million more doses from Pfizer-BioTech.

Turkey has yet to receive 100 million doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine, which was set to be delivered by the end of April.

Koca on Wednesday rejected claims by Turkey's main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu that  Turkey had reached an agreement for 10 million doses of the Chinese vaccine, instead of the 100 million that was announced by the ministry.

Koca left a question on the whereabouts of the vaccines unanswered, Tele1 news site reported.

Erdoğan and Putin during the call expressed their view that COVID-19 measures will make it possible to improve bilateral tourist ties, Russian TASS agency reported.

Last month, Russia began restrict flights to and from Turkey between April 15-June 1 due to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in the country. The decision to slash the number of flights to Turkey, a popular destination for millions of Russian tourists annually, deals a hard blow to the country’s vital tourism sector.

The phone call between the leaders arrives as the two countries are working on joint production of the Russian vaccine in Turkey. Turkey's interest in Sputnik V increased as cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed in recent months, prompting another nationwide lockdown that began last week.

Cooperation on Syria was also discussed during the call and two leaders agreed to support the efforts of Libya’s Government of National Accord, Anadolu said.