Turkey says Saudi Arabia keeps world in dark about coronavirus spread

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has blamed Saudi Arabia for failing to tell countries the danger posed by people returning from religious pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Medina and Mecca during the coronavirus pandemic, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Alarms were raised about tens of thousands of Turks who returned from the Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to the Muslim holy sites, as Turkey recorded its first known case of the coronavirus on March 11.

Turkish authorities placed more than 10,000 of the pilgrims under quarantine, but doctors say those who returned earlier could have brought the deadly coronavirus back to Turkey with them.

"Saudi Arabia did not inform us or the world about any cases” of the coronavirus, Anadolu quoted Soylu as saying. “People returned from Umrah. The Health Ministry took measures right after the first case was observed" and put the pilgrims in isolation centres,” he said. 

But by then, the real damage could have already been done by pilgrims who returned to the country before that first case was recorded, Dr. Bülent Nazım Yılmaz, the head of the Turkish Medical Association that represents most of the country’s doctors, said in an interview with Ahval.

“If the pandemic is a risk to Turkey today, the main reason for that is that we lacked sufficient precautions for those thousands who returned from Umrah before March 8,” said Yılmaz.