ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will step up containment measures if the coronavirus outbreak grows and people ignore a “voluntary” quarantine, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, as the country’s top doctor warned of strains on hospitals and pushed for action.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB), which has criticized what it says is a lack of government readiness and transparency as cases surged over the last three weeks, has been among those pressing Ankara to adopt and enforce a stay-at-home order.
Turkey has reported 13,500 cases so far, the 10th highest number worldwide, and 214 deaths. The government has urged people to stay at home, halted flights, limited domestic travel, shut schools, bars and cafes and suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures.
But it has stopped short of announcing a full lockdown in an effort to cushion the economic disruption.
“We are determined to continue production and exports,” Erdogan told a meeting of provincial leaders of his ruling AK Party in a televised video conference.
“We won’t need further measures if all our citizens keep themselves in a voluntary quarantine. However, we may have to take much more advanced measures if the pandemic spreads and our citizens don’t stay at home,” he said.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city where infections are the highest, the mayor has pushed for a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus because millions of people are still going to work each day.
“TIP OF THE ICEBERG”
There are more than 2,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals in Istanbul including more than 200 in intensive care, with more than 100 medical staff infected so far, the TTB said, citing its own provincial data through March 30.
Hospitals in the city of 16 million people lack enough masks, gloves, goggles and other equipment and could face a severe lack of beds if the outbreak spreads, it said.
“This is surely the tip of the iceberg,” TTB Chairman Sinan Adiyaman said in an interview.
“Every person in the public and private sector must stay at home unless it is essential they go out,” he told Reuters, adding that this would mean granting them “certain social rights (including) paid leave”.
“Layoffs must absolutely be banned. Every worker’s social rights must be protected this way to ensure they stay at home apart from mandatory cases,” he said.
The government has announced a 100-billion lira ($15 billion) package to support the economy that includes some wage protection for workers, though many, including in the vast tourism sector, are not covered.
The TTB’s office in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, complained of “great secrecy” surrounding the 700 or so coronavirus patients there. It said doctors were struggling to access patient data and that not enough was being done to keep diagnosed and suspected cases separated.
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones