Superspreaders hinder Turkey’s fight against COVID-19, says virus taskforce member

The number of people of Turkey infected by COVID-19 has been declining slowly due to superspreaders, hindering the fight against the global pandemic, a member of the Coronavirus Scientific Committee told Demirören news agency on Sunday.

Mehmet Ceyhan, an expert in paediatric infectious diseases at Hacettepe University, warned about crowded workplaces and business establishments with many customers, where superspreaders may be present.

The potential carriers, who include healthcare personnel, clerks and cashiers, secretaries and information desk staff, hairdressers, flight attendants and drivers, should be tested for possible infection, Ceyhan said.

Superspreaders are people who contract the virus but do not show any symptoms, and thus are not detected by methods other than regular widespread testing. They also expel a higher virus load with every breath, thus spreading the virus more effectively, Ceyhan said.

Ceyhan said there could be as many as ten times more cases of the virus if asymptomatic carriers were not dealt with.

“We have since seen that when you isolate cases and their contacts, these undetected people continue to spread the virus, stopping us from lowering (case numbers) below a certain threshold,” he said.

The plateau in new daily diagnoses happened at different stages in different countries, Ceyhan said. “Some countries were stuck around 300 to 400, some like us remained at around the 1,000 cases mark. Now we cannot reduce that.”

Advising against a return to lockdowns over concerns for the economy, Ceyhan suggested restrictions in the size of gatherings in all areas of life, including family visits, funerals and wakes.

Another factor increasing the number of cases has been people travelling from coronavirus-heavy provinces to smaller cities, Ceyhan said. He suggested testing before intercity travel as a method to curb this spread.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca in his daily Twitter briefing on Sunday cited seven provinces as the ones with the highest rise in new cases, with megacity Istanbul and capital Ankara taking the lead.

Son 3 günde, ortalama vaka sayısının en çok arttığı iller: İstanbul, Ankara, Gaziantep, Mardin, Konya, Bursa, Diyarbakır. Yoğun bakım hasta sayımız, yeni vakaları takiben, artış eğiliminde. TEDBİR VARKEN, “Bugün vefat eden sayısı” kanıksanacak tablo değil.

— Dr. Fahrettin Koca (@drfahrettinkoca) July 5, 2020

The southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Mardin, which are both majority-Kurdish areas and have large refugee populations, followed Ankara and Istanbul in the number of new cases. Next was the central Anatolian agro-industrial hub of Konya, the northwestern industrial province of Bursa and Turkey’s largest majority-Kurdish province of Diyarbakır.

Istanbul’s working class neighbourhoods have been hit hardest by the pandemic, according to Health Ministry data, while the chairman of the provincial medical association warned that southeastern border province of Şırnak has seen a sharp spike in cases since June 1, when Turkey started to ease restrictions and lift one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.