Less testing behind Turkey’s reduction in COVID-19 cases – top medical body

Turkey is seeking a swift reopening to bolster its ailing economy after a new round of tough COVID-19 restrictions were imposed at the end of April. But experts warn that a recent fall in daily case numbers could be due to a decrease in testing, rather than the success of the country’s vaccination program. 

Daily figures have dropped to around 14,500, from over 60,000 before the April 29 lockdown. The government is aiming for a drop to below 5,000 for the vital tourism sector to return to business, ahead of high season that the ailing economy desperately needs. However, doubts remain over how that aim will be met any time soon on current trends.

According to Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Secretary General Vedat Bulut, unless Turkey can procure substantially more vaccinations, widespread immunity will not be possible before spring 2022.

Turkey has administered some 25 million jabs since launching a mass vaccination drive in January, according to official figures.

But only 10.7 million people have received both of the two required doses of vaccine, while another four million have started the immunisation process by getting their first jabs, the Health Ministry said.

If it is assumed that the fully-vaccinated 10.7 million people have immunity at 80 percent, “we are left with fact that (only) 8.5 million out of Turkey’s 83 million population is immunised against COVID-19”, Bulut told Ahval.

The country therefore still needs 100 million more jabs, he said.

With vaccination rates still low, a decrease in testing could be behind the recent fall in infecetions. Bulut maintained that the decrease in cases does not reflect the reality on the ground.

“The number of COVID-19 tests in Turkey have been restricted,” Bulut said. According to the top official, up to 40,000 of daily tests are those administered regularly to essential workers, including those in parliament and the presidential campus.

“Only 10 percent of tests conducted were coming out positive from the get-go,’’ he explained. “And because daily testing dropped to the 190,000s, there are only 15,000 cases. This has to do with less testing.”

Turkey ran around 200,000 tests per day this week, according to the Health Ministry, down from over 320,000 in mid-April.

Bulut said reaching the desired daily 5,000 cases will only be possible through “playing with statistics” or “holding back on testing”, something he says the government has not shied  away from in the past.

Turkey’s lockdown was imposed after daily infections soared to more than 60,000, and infection rates per 100,000 residents to 532 in Istanbul and 361 in Ankara. Restrictions have lowered the rates to 359 for Istanbul and 247 for Ankara, but the daily death toll has ranged between 394 and 232 people.

Nationwide lockdown restrictions in Turkey will gradually be eased after the three-day Eid al-Fitr religious holiday that began on Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.