Turkey remains off safe travel list per EU Council recommendation

The Council of the European Union on Thursday updated the list of countries that it recommends EU member states lift restrictions for. The new list still does not include Turkey despite diplomatic efforts, or any new countries, while Algeria has lost its spot.

According to the new recommendations, travel restrictions based on the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic can be lifted after Friday for citizens of Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay, while citizens of China will be “subject to confirmation of reciprocity.”

The 14-country list has dropped Algeria, which had been included in the June 30 recommendation.

“The criteria to determine the third countries for which the current travel restriction should be lifted cover in particular the epidemiological situation and containment measures, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations. They are applied cumulatively,” the Council press release said.

Epidemiological criteria include an equal or lower rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants to the EU average, and a “stable or decreasing trend of new cases,” over the last two weeks. Another aspect is the reliability of the information governments share about the pandemic.

“The Council recommendation is not a legally binding instrument,” the release said, adding that, nonetheless, member states “should not decide to lift the travel restrictions for non-listed third countries before this has been decided in a coordinated manner.”

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Wednesday refuted rumours about testing in the country.

“There is an interesting discussion on social media. It is claimed that the accuracy of our test kits is 40 percent. The accuracy of our test kits is over 90 percent," Koca said in a press conference.

Starting on Wednesday, Turkey has removed the number of intubated patients and the number of patients in intensive care from Koca’s daily briefings, adding pneumonia rate in patients, and the number of so-called seriously ill patients.

The move was met with criticism that the government was obscuring the extent of the pandemic, which may be picking up speed for a full-fledged second wave.

“As the situation worsens, they have removed ICU patients and intubated patients from the graphics,” genetics professor Çağhan Kızıl said in a tweet. “This is not data that complies with international standards, this is an attempt to hide the force of the growing and uncontrolled pandemic.”

“The change the ministry has made in the COVID-19 infographs is misleading, will misinform the people, and will incite panic as people think the numbers must be too bad (to announce),” the Turkish Medical Association said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, some Turks have taken to keeping statistics for themselves, with one Twitter user saying his data shows an increase in intubations for the last two months, and asking: “Why did the Health Ministry not keep its data in compliance with international standards to begin with?”