As the number of coronavirus cases in the country surged past the 100,000 mark on Friday, April 24, Turkey's health minister compared Istanbul to China's Wuhan and said that the coronavirus spread in the capital was "under control."
Turkish health minister Fahrettin Koca compared Istanbul to Wuhan, the central Chinese city which reported the first case of the novel coronavirus and emerged as the epicenter of infections back in December last year. "Turkey's Wuhan was Istanbul," the health minister told a columnist in an interview published in the pro-government Sabah newspaper on Friday, April 24.
Meanwhile, Wuhan the capital of Central China's Hubei province lifted its travel restrictions for residents and reopened its borders on April 8 after 11 weeks in lockdown following a decline in coronavirus cases.
Coronavirus spread in Istanbul under control
Koca, who had earlier said that Turkey's coronavirus infection rate was stabilizing, said that the spread of the dreaded virus in Istanbul was brought under control with the help of contact tracing executed by a team of experts who "followed trials like medical detectives." He argued that it would have been difficult to contain the spread without the technology, which has come under immense scrutiny from governments worldwide over security and privacy concerns.
The Turkish government too was reportedly reluctant to share the locations of the country's cases initially, and it wasn't until early April that the Turkish health minister confirmed about 60 percent of the cases in the country were traced in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city with a population of more than 16 million.
However, a recent investigation from The New York Times suggests the actual number of cases in Istanbul could be much higher than what the Turkish officials have revealed, since an examination of the death certificate procured from the city recorded around 2,100 additional deaths than normal between March 9 to April 12.
Coronavirus in Turkey
On Friday, April 24, the Turkish health ministry announced 3,122 new cases of infections and 109 more deaths from the virus, bringing the country's total cases to 104,912 and the total death toll to 2,600.
With this, Turkey has overtaken its neighbour Iran as the country with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Middle East. The figures also put Turkey ahead of China, which previously had the most confirmed coronavirus cases outside of Europe and the US.
Turkey ranks seventh in number of COVID-19 cases
The country which has a population of roughly around 83 million people ranks seventh in the world in terms of the number of confirmed infections, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.
High rate of infections but low death toll
Despite the high number of infections (104,000+), the middle eastern country, which borders Asia and Europe and acts as a bridge between the two continents, has managed to keep its "declared" death toll resulting from the virus at a reasonable rate (2,600), which is much lower than many countries which have a lower number of infections, including Iran which has reported more than 88,000 cases of infection with more than 5,000 deaths so far.
In fact, Turkey has lower coronavirus reported death toll than Belgium (44,000+ cases and 6,000+ deaths), Brazil (52,000+ cases and 3,500+ cases), The Netherlands (36,000+ cases with 4000+ deaths) and even China which has recorded just over 84,000 infections with more than 45,000 cases so far. Though, many experts believe China's real figures could be much higher.
Meanwhile, some experts believe many countries are deliberately hiding the true extent of the pandemic and that the real toll around the world is much higher than what the Johns Hopkins tally suggests, due in part to the limited testing and difficulty in counting the dead in the middle of a crisis.
Ramadan in Turkey amid a pandemic
Meanwhile, like the rest of the Muslim countries of the world, Turkey's most populous provinces have braced themselves for observing the holy month of Ramadan under lockdowns and curfews.
The government has announced a four-day lockdown in 31 provinces in Turkey starting the week, and the lockdowns are expected to continue over the next several weekends as well. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has earlier this week predicted that the country could get back to "business as usual" after the end of Ramadan in late May which is when he predicts the pandemic will end in the country.