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Turkey Accused of Coronavirus Cover-Up as Cases Rise

Turkey Accused of Coronavirus Cover-Up as Cases Rise

Doctors and local politicians in Turkey are voicing concern that the government is downplaying the scale of the resurgent coronavirus outbreak.

The latest official figures suggest there are around 1,700 new infections and around 60 deaths every day across the country. But doctors say the numbers do not add up, as they are seeing a much higher prevalence of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Dr. Kenan Gengeç runs a clinic in Sanliurfa in Turkey’s Anatolia region, one of the areas worst-hit by Turkey’s coronavirus resurgence. He is also a board member of the city’s Chamber of Doctors. Gengeç said the outbreak is far worse than the government is acknowledging.

“These days, they publish daily official cases of around 1,500 infections nationally. But some days, in Sanliurfa alone, we have 600 to 700 cases. It is very obvious that the numbers they publish are not correct,” Gengec told VOA in an interview Monday.

A health worker wearing a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus wears and a picture of a black ribbon to raise concerns over COVID-19 deaths and increasing numbers of patients, Istanbul, Sept. 15, 2020.
A health worker wearing a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus wears and a picture of a black ribbon to raise concerns over COVID-19 deaths and increasing numbers of patients, Istanbul, Sept. 15, 2020.

Similar concerns were raised two weeks ago by the mayors of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara. The mayors, both members of the opposition Republican People’s Party, warned of a mismatch between statistics from the Ministry of Health and the numbers they were receiving locally.  

Ekrem Imamoglu, mayor of Istanbul, said the number of local infections in his city equalled the government figures for the whole country.

At a recent webinar organized by opposition parties, Mansur Yavas, mayor of Ankara, said, “What benefit is there to underreporting the numbers? In my view, it should be the other way round. Otherwise, people won’t stop going to weddings, going to funerals. They won’t stop gathering together.”

Gengeç says he believes the government is trying to limit economic damage.

“It is tourism season, and because of this, they have economic concerns,” he told VOA. “They are worried that the public will be angry, and they don't want people to see their failures with such high numbers. So, they don’t give the correct information.”  

Turkey’s Ministry of Health and the governor of Sanliurfa declined interviews with VOA.  

Sanliurfa-based journalist Ibrahim Uygur said the government is not providing enough information.

“Until one month ago, they published how many positive cases were in Sanliurfa, but now they don't release it. Now, we can only publish the daily number the government gives for all (of) Turkey,” Uygur told VOA Monday.

Sanliurfa residents who spoke to VOA also appeared skeptical of the government’s numbers.

“The reason why the virus is so prevalent in Sanliurfa is because no one cares about the rules,” local resident Mehmet Veysel Akdeniz told VOA. “They don't wear masks. They are not ashamed. They go to weddings, and many catch the virus.”

Turkey denies any cover-up. In recent days the government has brought in new restrictions following a surge in cases. Face masks are now compulsory outside the home, and social gatherings like weddings are limited to one hour, with dancing and catering banned.

Memet Aksakal contributed to this report.

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