With daily coronavirus infections falling by more than 75% and plunging from record levels in April, Turkey is now on the verge of drastically easing many of the restrictions it has introduced to control the pandemic. Although Ankara is seeking to enter a process of partial normalization, an expert warned on Thursday that it was still too early to relax.
It’s no secret that April was the worst month in Turkey’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The country continued to announce new records for the number of daily cases with new infections reaching 63,000.
Despite an ambitious vaccination campaign that saw more than 11 million people receive both doses of the vaccine, the large number of infections forced the government to announce a total 17-day lockdown to reverse the trend. These strict measures combined with the vaccination campaign appear to have paid off, at least for now, with daily infections on the verge of falling below 10,000 for the first time since early March.
But for success to become long-term, people will need to stay on their toes and continue to wear masks while distancing themselves socially, even if they are fully vaccinated, according to a member of the Turkish Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board.
Professor and head of infectious diseases and clinical microbiology at Ãukurova University, YeÅim TaÅova told Anadolu Agency (AA) that people should be aware that vaccines do not prevent new infections and that they work primarily to reduce the severity of COVID-19.
âVaccines will not protect you from infection. There are also mutations, just like the flu virus. We have seen vaccinated people go through a mild case of COVID-19 if they are infected, but they can still be infected, âTaÅova said.
âTherefore, we can see how important vaccinations are in the fight against the pandemic. But we also need to find an effective treatment, which is still not currently available for COVID-19, âshe added.
Despite the success of vaccines in reducing death and hospitalization rates, people still need to protect themselves against the virus, she warned.
âConsidering the new information we are learning every day, we must remain vigilant. It is still too early to relax. Wearing a mask and practicing proper social distancing and hygiene are always important, we cannot compromise on these things, âshe said.
TaÅova also cited a recent warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) that the world could see a further increase in coronavirus cases by the fall as people start to travel around the world again.
Full locking has proven to be useful
Speaking about the volatile nature of the pandemic, TaÅova said the main goal of the total lockdown was to keep people from mixing with the crowds, especially at a time when infection rates were so high.
While she called the total lockdown a success in reducing the number of cases, she said it could have been even better if more people had been vaccinated during the 17-day period.
“Of course we wish our vaccination campaign was a little faster because we have that 70% to 80% threshold that we talk about all the time,” she said, referring to the number of people who need to be vaccinated among a population to obtain collective immunity. .
âIn that sense, containment has been helpful. But when you’re dealing with a pandemic, action needs to be taken as part of a larger plan, which we call a package. When one movement does not complement the other, the whole plan might not bring about a change, âTaÅova said.
The slowdown in the speed of vaccination rates that TaÅova refers to was caused by a delay in the delivery of doses of CoronaVac, the main vaccine used across the country. Turkey was due to receive 100 million doses of the vaccine by April, but Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the Chinese pharmaceutical company had delayed shipments, citing production capacity issues.
Variants remain a threat
Regarding the many variants that have sprung up around the world, TaÅova said that the one known as the Kent or British variant is still the most common in Turkey. Explaining that although the data showed that this variant did not cause more serious illness in those infected, she said it was still more infectious than the original strain.
âWe started to see a lot of unvaccinated people under the age of 50 getting sick. There have been patients who have been vaccinated, but the majority of them had a really mild infection. This underlines the importance of expanding the vaccination campaign and of vaccinating people under 50, âshe said.
According to TaÅova, the most dangerous variant discovered so far is that originating in India.
Saying that other common variants, such as those from Brazil and South Africa, were still mostly countered by vaccines, the Indian coronavirus strain has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of jabs.
âThe Indian variant is spreading far too quickly and it reduces the effectiveness of the vaccines. And that is precisely what we fear the most, âshe said.
âThis is why we must continue to wear a mask and to distance ourselves socially. Because more infections mean an increased risk of the virus mutating when it infects a new host. “