Turkey struggles to ramp up coronavirus tests in critical phase

Turkey has struggled to ramp up testing for the coronavirus as doctors warn the country has reached a critical point in the outbreak, Reuters said on Thursday.

Since Turkey reported its first coronavirus case on March 11, a surge in cases to 3,629 has outstripped rates in other countries and the government has failed to meet its target of conducting 10,000 tests a day.

“Our test numbers are low. We were certainly not prepared. Countries that are ready must have high test numbers,” Sinan Adıyaman, chairman of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), told Reuters.

Adıyaman said that Turkey should implement a stronger lockdown and said that Ankara’s decision earlier this month to send 500,000 kits to the United States and then order a million more from China risked jeopardising the health of the public and medical personnel.

“Exporting testing kits to the United States as Turkey needs them and while they need to be used here will be an unforgivable mistake,” he said.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said this week that Turkey had a monthly production capacity of 2 million tests, and said that the tests purchased from China were “rapid tests”, not the kind of PCR tests sent to the United States.

About 40,000 coronavirus tests have been done in Turkey including about 7,000 in the last 24 hours, said Reuters.

The virus's death toll in Turkey has risen to 75 after 16 people died of it on Thursday.

Turkey has closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers, and suspended sports matches and flights to tackle the virus. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan again urged people to remain at home and said Turkey might get on top of the infection in two to three weeks.

But Adıyaman told Reuters that Turkey had been slow to suspend sports leagues and to quarantine those coming from abroad.

“Around 200,000 people arrived from abroad since the outbreak began, and they were just given a simple fever test and released across Turkey in an uncontrolled manner,” he said. “You cannot fight a pandemic this way.”