Omicron cases surge to record high, as contact tracing abolished

Turkey has recorded 82,180 new COVID-19 cases in the space of 24 hours, its highest daily figure of the pandemic, health ministry data showed on Thursday.


There were 174 deaths related to coronavirus in the same period, the data showed. In late December, daily cases stood at about 20,000, before a surge in infections due to Omicron.

Turkish Medical Association urged the Ministry of Health to reinstitute contact tracing of mild Omicron cases, which had been ceased in December. The Association also claims the home-made passive virus vaccine Turkovac is not effective against Delta and Omicron variants, a claim disputed by the government.   The Erdogan administration appears to have adopted the mantra that social mobility restrictions are too costly to deal with contagion, preferring instead to push the society towards her immunity.


The rate of people in need of intensive care after being infected with the coronavirus may increase in mid-February, the head of a Turkish medical association warned on Wednesday.


Professor Oktay Demirkıran, chair of the Turkish Society of Intensive Care, told the Sabah newspaper that they anticipate a rise in COVID-19 cases after the ongoing semester break, a two-week holiday for 18 million students and their families, “as the contacts between people are not as low as necessary (to eliminate the chain of infection) and rate of vaccination is not at the desired level.”


Turkey is embattled with a new surge in cases stemming from the fast-spreading omicron variant. In about one month, the number of cases, which fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 daily, reached 70,000. On Wednesday, the country reported the latest uptick in daily cases with 77,434 new cases, a bit lower than the record 77,722 reported in one day, two weeks ago.


“The disease can be severe for people in risk groups. We see people at the age of 65 and above who did not receive booster shots in intensive care units. We see a rise in intensive care patients in Istanbul and other big cities,” Demirkıran said Wednesday.


Though omicron was viewed as less deadly than previous variants, it still poses a lethal risk for people in risk groups as is indicated by daily fatalities, which were recorded as 188 Wednesday.


“Omicron is not less damaging than others as the number of deaths indicates,” Demirkıran said.


He listed people under risk as “unvaccinated, people with a weak or suppressed immune system, people who were not administered with booster shots within six months after their doses, people with obesity and high blood pressure.”


He called upon people to adhere to measures like wearing protective masks and social distancing.


Health Minister Fahrettin Koca had also urged the public earlier to adhere to measures and maintain social distancing in particular, “up to 3 meters (9.84 feet) from each other.”


“Even if the virus mutates, our measures don’t. Individual measures are more important than ever today,” Koca had said in a written statement last month.


Professor Tevfik Özlü, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, warned that the semester break would aggravate COVID-19 cases, especially in Anatolian cities, which had a relatively lower number of cases compared to big cities in the west with higher population density.


“This level of mobility carries the virus from big cities like Istanbul and Ankara to others. We have to minimize this kind of mobility,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) Thursday.


“People either travel to their hometowns or to touristic facilities. Mass gatherings and meetings with relatives living in different cities also have the potential to spread the virus. It is a big risk to come together with people other than those from your household for a long period of time and without protective measures,” he said.


The country lifted most restrictions related to the pandemic last year and counts on its vaccination program, which most recently included the domestically developed Turkovac jab. Projections show that Turkey will exceed 100,000 daily cases in February, from about 70,000. The silver lining is that peaks are usually followed by a plateau in numbers – but this subsequent period is not a given, as experts say it depends on the vaccination rate.


Booster shots are recommended by health authorities for full protection against omicron and other variants. Though the vaccination program was opened up for almost all eligible groups, anti-vaxxers and vaccine hesitancy prevails in the country, with the Health Ministry running awareness campaigns and deploying health care crews to convince people to get vaccinated.

The liberal approach to dealing with  Covid-19 may cause real economic damage, if the current wave lasts beyond February, when early reservations for tourism season gather momentum. Turkey’s 2022 game plan to combat inflation rests upon producing a current account surplus, for which a healthy tourism season is essential.


Nurcin Talya, staff reporter


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.