Majority-Kurdish town sees rapid surge in COVID-19 cases

The number of COVID-19 cases have seen a drastic increase in Cizre, a major town in the Şırnak province which lies along Turkey’s border with Syria, and hospitals in the province are overwhelmed, chairman of Şırnak’s medical association told news website Bianet on Thursday.

Chairman Serdar Küni said Cizre, which has an almost all-Kurdish population, had seen 88 cases on average, 75 of whom had recovered, before June 1 when Turkey started to ease coronavirus restrictions.

The outbreak in Cizre had been confined mostly to out-of-town soldiers before June, Küni said, but the infection started to spread among the populace in late May, when people congregated in shopping centres as they prepared for the Eid al-Fitr feast, which marks the end of Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Before that, the number of people who lost their lives was one,” he said.

Hospitals in Şırnak city centre and three of the province’s major towns, Cizre, Silopi and İdil, have already been overwhelmed, the chairman said. There are at least 200 houses under quarantine, and some patients have been placed in dormitories to isolate them.

Neighbouring provinces have also started to receive applications from people who suspect they contracted the virus, and some have later tested positive for the coronavirus, Küni told news network Medyascope in a separate interview.

A map of cases has been making the rounds among social media users, showing a severe rate of infection in many areas.

“You returned from the brink of destruction not once, not twice, but many times. You will again, my beloved Cizre,” Mehmet Zırığ, the town’s former mayor, said in a later tweet where he shared the map.

The rapid hike is due to authorities “turning a blind eye” to the town’s residents as they strived to minimise the spread by their own means, Küni said.

Medical professionals and local officials have tried to warn the government against lifting the restrictions too fast, Küni added, to no avail. Doctors and medical organisations have also not been able to receive any data from the provincial pandemic board, the Health Ministry’s Şırnak directorate, or the governor’s office, he said.

"We definitely say that a two-week quarantine needs to be imposed urgently in provinces and districts where the virus is spreading rapidly,” Küni said. “Radical measures need to be taken immediately.”

There hasn’t been adequate testing either, the chairman said, adding that people placed in quarantines are not supervised, leading to faster spread.

Küni called for a 15-day quarantine.