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The outlook gets grimmer: Intensive care units filling up in Turkey

An employee desinfects a corridor next to a coffin prepared for a person who died of the COVID-19 disease at the morgue of Ortakoy cemetery in Ankara on February 23, 2021. - (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

In April, Turkey reached daily new COVID-19 cases of 50,000, breaking national records since the beginning of the pandemic. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) warns that the figure may climb to 60,000 and cause the collapse of the country’s health system, which has the third highest number of intensive care units (ICUs) per capita among OECD countries, after the US and Germany. Private hospitals have filled up while public hospitals are at alarming levels of occupancy.

In the last 24 hours, a total of 294,274 tests were carried out in Turkey, with 50,678 people testing positive. Also, 237 people were reported to have died. For a while, the TTB has been claiming that the official figures do not reflect the reality. Its chairperson, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who has been called a “terrorist” by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, says none of the COVID-19 statistics are transparent and that this lack of access to reliable information hinders a proper fight against the spread of the disease.

The TTB, along with the Turkish Society of Intensive Care (TYBD), has called for a complete lockdown ahead of Ramadan, the holy month of Muslims that will begin on April 13. Yet the government is far from able to fulfill the request due to the economic bottleneck the country is in. A government subvention to shore up companies, briefly halting operations to help them pay employee wages, came to a conclusion at the end of March, and employers were allowed to give employees unpaid time off. From March forward, the government has taken steps towards a controlled normalization, despite the warnings of the TTB and its own scientific advisory board. The loosening of measures has prompted record high case numbers in April. Yet the TTB maintains that even these numbers are unreliable and that the true outlook is much bleaker.

As Turkey has been breaking records in the number of daily new cases, the campaign to vaccinate the population has been lagging behind schedule. Only 7.5 million people have thus far received two inoculations, whereas the Ministry of Health promised to administer 100 million doses by May. Minister Fahrettin Koca has complained that the vaccine companies are falling short of their promises, while the TTB has slammed the government over its tardiness in providing a supply of vaccines.

A hospital from İstanbul shared photos of its ICUs to reveal to the public the gravity of the situation. Along with pictures showing all the beds occupied, the hospital announced that it has been having trouble handling the number of incoming patients for about 20 days, in a similar vein with the early months of the pandemic last year.

The ministry has instructed hospitals to create new COVID-19 services and intensive care units, while TYBD Chairperson İsmail Cinel said in a press statement that ICUs will overflow in 10 days.

According to the ministry’s charts, ICUs have an occupancy rate of 66.5 percent. This figure goes as high as 90 percent in provinces such as Samsun, Yalova and İstanbul. Currently, three or four out of all the ICUs in the country are dedicated to COVID-19 treatment.

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