Turkish doctors issue apologies for coronavirus statements

(Updates with statement on paragraph 6-7)

Two doctors in Turkey retracted their statements this month after they were featured in viral social media posts that contradicted the Turkish government’s reports on the coronavirus, Gazete Duvar reported.

The first, Güle Çınar of Ankara University’s medicine department, was detained by police and accused of spreading false information after a video of her telling trainee medics that there were thousands of coronavirus patients in Turkey went viral.

Çınar said the return of thousands of people from the Umrah pilgrimage to the Muslim holy cities in Saudi Arabia had devastated Turkey’s battle to contain the virus, resulting in thousands of infections.

At the time, the Health Ministry had recorded fewer than 200 confirmed infections. The number of infections has risen sharply since as more tests were administered, and some observers believe the number of cases in the country has far outstripped official figures since the government announced its first COVID-19 patient on March 11.

Nevertheless, Çınar released a written statement through Ankara University’s social media account apologising for causing anxiety and saying that her words had been taken out of context.

On Sunday, another doctor, Yusuf Savran, published his own apology after a recording of him warning Turks that the “number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country has surpassed Italy”.

“The Health Ministry and its relevant bodies are carrying out their duties meticulously. My statement and the comparison I made to Italy have been misunderstood,” Savran said in a video on Sunday. “We are continuing our work as responsible doctors. If my statements have caused panic, I apologise to my superiors in the state and to the public.”

Italy is among the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, with a known death toll that passed 10,000 on Monday and more than 92,000 known cases. With 9,217 cases officially recorded to date and 131 deaths, Turkey is still far behind Italy.

However, observers have raised alarm over the lack of transparency shown by the Turkish government, which has taken into custody journalists who have reported on the virus’s spread around the country and which is only making public basic information about infection figures.

Doctors told Ahval they had heard of colleagues being reprimanded for speaking to media about the coronavirus. Healthcare workers told German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle that they believed undiagnosed cases of the coronavirus were rampant in Turkey and many deaths caused by the virus were not being recorded.

A biology professor from Dokuz Eylul University, Barbaros Çetin, made a public statement that preventing further damage from the pandemic may no longer be possible and predicted 1 billion people will die from the virus within two years.

The university's dean said he has launched an investigation against Çetin for inciting panic with his comments, Ege’de Sön Söz reported.