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2 cases of new mu variant detected in Turkey: health minister

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Turkey’s health minister has announced that two cases of a new coronavirus variant called mu,” which has the potential to evade the immunity provided by a previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination according to the World Health Organization (WHO), have been detected in Turkey, local media reported on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said they weren’t considering further measures just yet since only two cases of mu, also known as B.1.621, had been identified in the country so far.

When asked if undergoing PCR tests in state hospitals would no longer be free of charge in order to urge people to get vaccinated, Koca said they weren’t considering that at the moment.

Turkey, which reopened its schools on Monday, introduced testing requirements for the unvaccinated as it seeks to curb the rising number of COVID-19 infections.

As part of measures against the virus, full vaccination is recommended for teachers, teaching assistants, canteen staff and bus drivers for in-person education, while people who are not fully vaccinated are required to submit a negative PCR test result twice a week if they have contact with students. There is, however, no such requirement for students.

When asked about the possibility that the rising number of COVID cases might again prevent in-person learning, Koca said: “We don’t want to ever shut down schools again because we now have [enough] vaccines [to fight the virus]. As people continue getting shots, vaccination rates increase and herd immunity develops. We think that will be enough [to continue in-person education].”

Turkey has administered around 98.4 million vaccines against COVID-19, mainly China’s Coronavac and Pfizer-BioNTech, with 50.1 million people receiving one dose, some 38.8 million receiving two doses and 9 million receiving a third.

The minister also stated that they want to begin mass production of  Turkovac, Turkey’s locally developed vaccination against COVID-19, within the next two months at the latest.

Meanwhile, six people, including three nurses working in a private hospital, were detained on suspicion of forging COVID-19 vaccination record cards, news channel CNN Türk reported on Tuesday.

The nurses were arrested on charges of “aggravated fraud” and “forgery of documents,” while three others were released and placed under judicial supervision, according to the report.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey increased by 20,962 and 271 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data released on Monday.

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