Turkey failed to tackle coronavirus spread on medical and social fronts

The coronavirus pandemic has become a test of governance. Almost every country in the world has cases to be proud of in its fight against COVID-19, but they have all committed mistakes. None are perfect and none are faultless.

A low number of casualties and high number of recovered patients is not an adequate criterion to assess a country’s performance. Statistics are very important in determining where we stand in the fight against the pandemic, but they can be used just as easily to prove an assertion as to prove its opposite.

The speed of the contagion and the curve in the number of new patients vary extensively from one country to another. 
Apart from statistics, there are two other factors that are important in assessing a country's performance.

One of them is the action taken by the governments to contain the spread of the pandemic, such as imposing quarantines and curfews. Turkey was slow in taking these measures and maladroit in implementing it. This clumsiness caused the resignation of the interior minister after a lockdown announcement given with two hours’ notice sent huge crowds to stock up at shops, although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revoked the resignation.

In contrast, the countries that took immediate action at the very beginning of the pandemic have been successful in containing its spread. Taiwan, South Korea and Germany are the best performers in this field. 

The second factor is the number of tests, which gives an idea about the magnitude of the pandemic in a country. If an individual tests positive, they can be treated and isolated so that they do not transmit the virus to others. The capacity to manufacture test kits is almost unlimited. 

So, what remains to be done is to organise and train medical staff to carry out as many tests per day as possible, thus building up the capacity to carry out tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of tests per day.

By doing this, a country could prevent the death of tens of thousands of its citizens. This is a race against time. Turkey has made efforts to increase the number of tests it administers, but at the time of writing, the total number of tests carried out in Turkey was 598,933. Turkey and Germany have almost the same population - 82 million - but Germany has so far carried out 1,728,357 tests.

In the fight against COVID-19 the United States is a special case. Spain and Italy are two more. Then comes the category which includes Britain, France and Germany. Statistically Turkey stands somewhere between this last category and the remaining countries of the world.  

Turkey badly failed in another area that has nothing to do with medical capacity. It is connected with the social measures to alleviate the problems caused by the pandemic. In a country like Turkey, which has deep-rooted traditions of social solidarity, the government has done exactly the opposite of what it should have in a time of calamity. It blocked the bank account that an opposition-held provincial municipality had opened to raise funds for needy citizens and those who had lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The Interior Ministry said that this type of campaign required the provincial governor’s authorisation.

The reason for blocking the municipal aid campaign is that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the municipal elections in almost all of Turkey’s major cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Antalya, Mersin and Eskişehir. Unhappy with these results, the government wants now to obstruct the performance of these municipalities. To punish needy people at a time when a general humanitarian effort had to be mobilised was the last thing that the central authorities were expected to do.  

The central authorities’ greed did not stop there: The municipality of Eskişehir - another large city governed by the opposition party - had been distributing daily food to the poor and students. The government banned this as well.

Whether the government will be able to achieve the results it wants through these acts will be seen in the next elections, scheduled in 2023.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.