Turkey announced a record number of deaths from the coronavirus, highlighting the dilemma facing policy makers trying to contain the current surge in new cases without shutting down the economy again.
The Ministry of Health on Monday reported 153 deaths due to the virus over the past 24 hours and announced 6,713 symptomatic “patients, bringing the total number of reported cases to over 453,000 since the outbreak began nine months ago.
The number of new cases reported over the past day doubled from a week ago, a pace unseen since the early stages of the pandemic when the increase was often exponential. Equally alarming is the fact that Turkey made a controversial tweak to its data reporting in July, excluding asymptomatic cases and reporting only symptomatic patients. The government can hardly afford another lockdown with mounting costs from a contraction in activity earlier this year, rising public expenses to support job programs and the fallout on tax revenues.
In an attempt to increase compliance with regulations on masks and social distancing, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca asked the nation of 83 million people to stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out.
Koca is under increasing attacks for not fully disclosing the number of people who test positive for the coronavirus, much like the rest of the world does. Turkey’s opposition parties and medical associations criticized the minister for causing negligence by portraying a rosy outlook and the government for prioritizing economic gains over the lives of people.
In Istanbul alone -- Turkey’s largest city which Koca said on Nov. 2 accounted for 40 percent of the national patient count -- an average of 409 people died every day during the past week, a 108 percent rise from the same period a year ago.
Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, an opposition heavyweight, has frequently pointed out the discrepancy between data on Istanbul fatalities and the comparably low number of reported coronavirus deaths nationwide. He has recently urged the government to impose a full lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, a call endorsed by Meral Aksener, the leader of the nationalist Iyi Parti.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has instead restricted the movement of the elderly and youth, and imposed a partial curfew over the weekends. As part of the new measures, most schools will suspend in-class education until the end of the year while restaurants and cafes will only be open for takeaway.
Similar pressures are facing governments around the world. Germany is considering tighter measures ahead of new year festivities by extending partial lockdown from the end of November until at least Dec. 20. The country shut down bars, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues.
In the U.K., households will not be allowed to mix indoors in private homes, all non-essential shops must close, cafes and coffee shops must close again for two weeks, except for takeaway, from Nov. 27.