Coronavirus pandemic has spread ‘throughout Turkey,’ says health minister

(Releads with updates)

Turkey's coronavirus cases are not localised in a particular region, but have rather spread throughout the country, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters on Monday.

The number of cases, now above 1,200, will further increase, as testing will be more widespread, the minister said.

Turkey has received shipment of 50,000 rapid screening tests, and will receive another 300,000 on Thursday, Koca added.

“Sufficient amounts” of a new early treatment medication has been shipped to Turkey from China, and will be used in treatment starting Monday, he said.

The medication can lower time spent in the intensive care unit, from 11 days to four, he added.

There are many people who have recovered or are on their way to recovery from COVID-19, the minister said, but fell short of giving numbers.

Turkey's death toll from coronavirus increased to 30 on Sunday as the number of confirmed cases rose to 1,256.

The medication, procured from China, will be used to treat cases as of Monday, he added.

When asked about genetics professor, Mustafa Ulaşlı, who has extensive research experience on coronaviruses, but was dismissed with a presidential decree following the 2016 failed coup attempt, Koca said:

“We are extending an on open door invitation. Regarding a vaccine, we want anybody with any information... to share it with us. We are expecting information from all, including the person you have mentioned."

Turkey has received shipment of 50,000 rapid screening tests, and will receive another 300,000 on Thursday, the minister said.

The country is also kicking off the production of locally-made respirators, and will provide funding to six universities and one medical centre for efforts to develop a vaccine, Koca said, while the Ministry of Health will hire 32,000 new medical staff.

Turkish experts will be holding videoconferences with their Chinese counterparts to share know-how on the virus, the minister added.

Koca repeated the Turkish government’s calls for citizens to self-isolate, but dismissed a reporter’s question on a possible lockdown.

“Anybody can declare their own state of emergency,” Koca said. “It does not have to be the state that declares it. The crux of the fight is that every single person isolates themselves.”

Comparing Turkey to countries that did not take early, meticulous precautions against COVID-19 is not “very rational” Koca said, adding that Turkey put up strong defences to reduce risk.

The pandemic’s fast progression in Turkey has been compared to countries like Italy and Spain, which have registered high fatalities and rapid deterioration in their healthcare systems in the last few weeks.

Turkey does not follow what has been happening, but rather looks at what could happen and take preventative measures, the minister said.

Twenty-eight of the 30 people who have lost their lives in Turkey were aged between 61 and 90, the minister said, with the remaining two aged 55 and 60.

All patients had other underlying conditions, which exacerbated the effect the coronavirus had on the lungs, according to the minister.

“There is no shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, ” the minister said, refuting claims that nurses and doctors were reusing masks or working without any protection.

Suppliers, who have exploited the surge in demand have seen legal action, the minister said, and Turkey would continue to contract medical equipment firms based on their daily capacities.

Turkish security forces raided on Monday mask producers following claims of stockpiling their products for profit during the pandemic.

The government has signed 20 contracts with producers to date, the minister said.

“Certain measures are in place, including expropriation” for companies involved with stockpiling, he said.