Turkey’s ability to decline the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths by more than 75 percent is a remarkable achievement, but the country should now be careful in complying with measures as the cases are in a surge again since the restrictions were eased mid-June, a World Health Organization (WHO) official has said.
“Turkey saw COVID-19 cases and deaths peaking in April, with more than 4,500 cases confirmed and over 100 people losing their lives every day. Since April, caseload and deaths have been declining up to over 75 percent. This is a remarkable achievement, and now is the time to keep working together to make sure that this situation lasts,” the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
He recalled that the easing of restrictions has resulted in case resurgence in Turkey. “My message is for authorities, partners, academia, communities and individuals: COVID-19 has not gone away; it simply lies in waiting for opportunities to surge again, and complacency is its great ally. We need to strengthen rather than lose our response efforts embracing the concept that ‘no one is safe till everyone is safe.’ Turkey has been an example of this principle over time,” Kluge said.
The WHO is closely monitoring all potential treatments currently under trial, including on antibody-based therapies, and to date, the agency is tracking about 1,700 clinical trials globally, he said. But it takes time since they need to make sure they provide protection, how strong this protection is and how long it lasts, the official said. “So far, no studies have answered these important questions,” he said.
Close to 140 vaccines are in development globally, including 13 in clinical evaluation, and several therapeutics in the pre-evaluation phase, he said, but noted that developing a successful and safe vaccine is a hugely complex challenge, and accelerated development does not mean cutting corners on safety and efficacy.
Until pharmaceutical interventions are in place, vaccines and therapies, everybody needs to maximize public health and behavioral measures, and at this point, people should continue to comply with their authorities’ guidance, he said.
“While many can feel emergency fatigue or start to be complacent, the transition to the ‘new normal’ should entail that behavioral changes become sustained and that the progress achieved so far as a societal gain is capitalized on,” Kluge stated.
Ultimately, the behavior of the people will determine what is going to happen in the future and trust for their government is the main driver of that, he said and underlined transparency, effective public health communication and political commitment are critical to foster trust and encourage public acceptance of what constitutes the new way of living.
“We fully understand that the socio-economic impacts of measures are of concern as they put people’s lives and livelihoods at stake. However, health and economic interests are not in contradiction. As we maximize health protection now, we minimize socio-economic consequences in turn.”
The WHO official paid a visit to Turkey on July 9-10, where he signed a financial agreement to pave the way for opening an office in the metropolis of Istanbul specializing in Preparedness for Humanitarian & Health Emergencies. “It testifies of Turkey’s robust disaster management capacity and its regional role in health and wellbeing promotion. My deepest appreciation to the Government of Turkey – we are proud to have such a strong supporter,” he said.
Kluge also visited the WHO’s field office in the southeastern border province of Gaziantep, where the agency is working to scale-up the COVID-19 response in northwest Syria. “We are particularly grateful to Turkey for its outstanding support and solidarity at a time when its own populations are suffering from the impact of the virus,” he said.