Coronavirus hits Istanbul’s working class hardest

Neighbourhoods that were hit hardest by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Istanbul are mostly working class and lower-income ones, an analysis of data published by the Turkish Health Ministry showed.

The hardest hit districts among the badly affected were Esenler, Güngören and Bağcılar, made up of working class neighbourhoods with a high concentration of Kurdish people, minorities and refugees, according to an analysis by Milliyet newspaper. Another district that stood out was Bahçelievler, with its population density of 35,944 people per square kilometre.

Several areas in the conservative Fatih district, including the vicinity of the Chora Museum, which was converted from a Byzantine Orthodox church, also had a high concentration of cases, based on images taken from the Health Ministry’s mobile application, Life Fits Into Home, which is also the official motto of Turkey’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Sultanbeyli and Sultangazi districts, the left-leaning working class home to many members of the Alevi sect, were also shown to have a very high concentration of cases.

The safest districts were the northern vacation getaway Şile, the industrial-focused Silivri and Çatalca, secular central districts of Kadıköy and Beşiktaş, as well as Sarıyer, which has a lower population density and still maintains some forest areas. Most of these districts with a relatively low case count are middle class neighbourhoods, with some including higher-income areas.

In addition to working class neighbourhoods, high-risk areas stand out as districts with high population densities, bad urban planning due to rapid growth, and a high concentration of immigrant/refugee populations, according to Osman Erk, a professor at Istanbul University’s Internal Medicine Department.

“I know for instance that Zeytinburnu has a higher case count than many other districts, and is home to extremely high numbers of Syrian and Central Asian migrants,” Erk told Milliyet.

The professor called for district-based efforts for high-risk areas.

Turkey, after having imposed one of the strictest lockdowns globally since mid-March, started to ease coronavirus restrictions on June 1, leading to concerns over a resurgence of the pandemic.

Medical organisations have accused the government of not being transparent with pandemic data. The Health Ministry has announced nationwide case counts daily, in the form of tweets by Minister Fahrettin Koca and a government website, but has refrained from providing province-based data to either the public or the Turkish Medical Association, save for a few exceptions in April, and most recently on June 18.

A Kurdish-majority town in the country’s southeast, Cizre, has caused particular alarm as it saw a rapid hike in new cases after June 1.