The Address | Benghazi – Libya
ANKARA – Turkey has announced its first confirmed case of Covid-19, ending weeks of speculation over whether the tourism and travel hub with a large refugee population would be able to avoid the novel Coronavirus outbreak.
The patient was a Turkish national who had recently returned from Europe, the health minister Fahrettin Koca said early on Wednesday. The man, his family and others who had come into contact with him were currently in quarantine, Koca said. The health minister did not provide any more details, citing the patient’s right to privacy.
“An early diagnosis was made. If there is an infection in the country, it is very limited,” the state-run Anadolu agency quoted Koca as saying. “The Coronavirus is not stronger than the measures we will take.”
Hospitals in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, have been set up to test and quarantine patients suspected of having the virus.
Turkish citizens should avoid travelling abroad if possible, Koca added. All planned holidays by healthcare professionals have been cancelled as a precaution.
A German tourist visiting the breakaway state of northern Cyprus only recognized by Turkey, was also diagnosed with Covid-19 on Tuesday. Two more cases were confirmed on the Greek side of the island.
Turkey, a tourist hub linking Europe and western Asia, had around 50 million visitors last year. It is also host to the largest refugee population in the world, mostly Syrians displaced by the neighboring civil war.
Turkey took preemptive measures to halt the spread of the virus, including shutting its border with Iran, one of the worst affected countries, and cancelling flights to several destinations with high rates of infection.
Reports in pro-government media to date praising the state’s preparedness have been met with some skepticism. Speculation has been rife for weeks that the Turkish authorities, desperate to keep the country’s fragile economic recovery on track, may have sought to suppress information about any outbreak within its borders.
Turkey is struggling with high unemployment, inflation and the threat of recession following a currency crash in 2018, as well as new investor fears about the country’s growing military involvement in Syria’s Idlib province in the last few weeks. The decision to close border crossings with Iran will also have affected trade and tourism.
The lira weakened against the dollar on Wednesday after the Coronavirus news was announced.
The Red Cross, Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have said Covid-19 could have catastrophic effects if it reaches vulnerable undocumented and refugee populations in the Middle East, including Turkey.
At least 13,000 refugees and migrants have gathered in areas near Turkey’s EU border after Ankara said on 28 February it would no longer impede their passage to Europe. The move, widely viewed as an effort to blackmail Turkey’s European allies into support for its Idlib operation, has been criticized for putting lives at risk. At least three people have died, one Syrian baby who drowned and two men who were allegedly shot with rubber bullets by Greek police.
Ankara has accused Athens of using deadly force to repel people trying to cross into Greek territory, while Turkey has deployed an extra 1,000 police officers to prevent people trying to re-enter Turkey.