Turkish labour union says thousands of COVID-19 cases in Ankara

There are close to 3,700 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases in the Turkish capital Ankara, and approximately 2,000 new daily diagnoses, healthcare workers’ union SES said in a statement on Tuesday.

Some 650 of Ankara’s COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, according to SES.

“The number of severely ill patients is on the rise, and there are more than 20 daily deaths in relation to COVID-19,” it said. The figure is almost half the daily deaths typically reported by the government nationwide in recent weeks.

The Turkish Health Ministry has implemented a policy of home monitoring for milder cases to keep as many hospital beds free as possible, but according to SES, this policy has hampered contact tracing efforts.

SES said that contact tracing units were stretched, with workers employed in shifts lasting 16 to 18 hours, and difficulties in procuring diagnostic kits and the drugs Favipiravir and Hydroxychloroquine, which are used in combination in early-stage coronavirus treatment.

“Patients wait for emergency room beds to open up, or to receive their medication as they are monitored at home,” the union said.

Many healthcare workers are “on the verge of burnout,” SES said due to stress, mobbing, long hours and a lack of qualified personnel, SES said. The union called for private hospitals to join efforts to combat the coronavirus, as public hospitals were unable to fully cope.

In late March, Turkey announced that public and private healthcare workers would not be allowed to resign from their posts for three months. When the ban expired, more than 500 healthcare professionals resigned or applied for retirement, SES said.

“Because of the rise in COVID-19 figures, and the Health Ministry not implementing worker health and safety guidelines, healthcare workers are choosing to use their right to resign, retire and take unpaid leaves due to increased risk,” SES said.

Chronically ill healthcare workers and those receiving treatment for cancers have been forced to continue working, and pregnant workers have not been given the right to maternity leave, the union said.

SES also reported shortages of personal protective equipment and called for regular PCR testing for all hospital workers. Employees are not provided with adequate childcare, it said.

“The steps the ministry does not take result in healthcare workers getting infected and dying,” SES said. “The indifference of administrators to our deaths has truly shown how much our labour and we are respected.”

Turkey registered 1,572 new cases of coronavirus and 47 deaths on Tuesday, with 19,359 cases still active nationwide. Daily diagnoses had fallen below 800, and active cases to close to 10,000, when Turkey lifted many of the restrictions put in place to combat the pandemic on June 1.

Last week, Turkey’s top medical body TTB announced that a total of 65 healthcare workers, including 32 doctors, had died from coronavirus-related complications. More doctors have met their deaths since the announcement.

A week before announcing mortalities in the medical community, regional offices of the TTB issued a joint press release saying doctors, nurses and technicians were exhausted and mentally drained.

On Sunday, TTB Chairman Sinan Adıyaman said there could be as many as ten times more COVID-19 cases than the government is reporting. Earlier in the week, opposition politicians had voiced similar suspicions about the number of deaths nationwide. The mayors of Ankara and Istanbul have also pointed to discrepancies in the official death toll.