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Experts in Turkey optimistic about recovery from coronavirus pandemic

Experts in Turkey optimistic  about recovery from coronavirus pandemic

Experts predict a return to a “relative normal” at the end of the summer as the coronavirus outbreak continues to affect people worldwide.

Dr. Mustafa Necmi Ilhan, the dean of Gazi University Medical School in the capital Ankara and a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, and Dr. Mustafa Çetiner, an internal medicine specialist, offered their insight to Anadolu Agency (AA) on the course of the pandemic and when life will return to normal. Although he noted that it is not yet possible to determine when exactly the pandemic will end, Ilhan said that looking at the current stage along with people complying with restrictions and the introduction of vaccinations, it is going “better” both in Turkey and around the world.

“We cannot say when the pandemic will end precisely, but that will happen when 60%-70% of the society develops antibodies against the coronavirus, in other words, when what we call ‘herd immunity’ occurs,” he said. “This is most likely through immunization.”

Highlighting that Turkey has reported over 2 million coronavirus cases so far, Ilhan said, “It is possible to say that when we reach an immunization level of about 60%-70%, there will be less transmission of the coronavirus between people.”

While pointing out that the number of cases started to drop in the last two weeks, Ilhan said this should not give rise to complacency in society as the risk of contracting the disease remains quite high. “If people do not wear a mask because (they say) ‘I have been vaccinated or overcame the disease,’ do not comply with social distancing, if they are in a crowd, if they do not pay attention to hygiene, they should know that there will always be a risk of (contracting) the coronavirus,” he warned. “When we reach a certain level of vaccination and society obeys the precautionary rules, we can lead a relatively normal life by the end of the summer months.”

He added that “a better normal life” compared to the current conditions depends solely on compliance with the measures and the level reached in immunization.

Çetiner, meanwhile, said that if the virus mutates and contagiousness increases, individual measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene are among the most effective solutions to prevent the disease. Noting that vaccines are the biggest weapon and the key to exiting the pandemic, he said: “However, unfortunately, it is not possible for us to return to our normal daily lives in one day with vaccines. It will take time to achieve widespread immunization and community immunity.”

“When will the pandemic end? When will the virus become harmless? When will the measures end? Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a clear date,” he said. According to Çetiner, returning to normal depends on variables such as the effectiveness of communal vaccination programs, the desire or acceptance of the society to be vaccinated, the continuation of compliance with the most basic measures against the virus, the duration of the immunity provided by vaccines and whether there will be new mutations.

Çetiner predicted the earliest time for the return to normal will be late summer or the fall of 2021.

He recalled remarks by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) in the U.S., who said that with mass coronavirus vaccination programs, a return to normal might begin in October 2021. Pointing out that even in the case of vaccination, measures should be continued for a while, Çetiner said this is “because we still do not know how much vaccines prevent contagion.”

“Even if we are vaccinated, we may risk infecting someone else with COVID-19,” he said. “Vaccines are not 100% protective, and herd immunity will take time to be achieved.”

Vaccine deal

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced late Thursday that an agreement for 50 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine was finalized during the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board’s first meeting of the year.

“As of today (Thursday), we have finalized an agreement for 50 million doses of an inactive vaccine and received the first dispatch of 3 million doses,” Koca said in a press statement, referring to the CoronaVac vaccine developed in China.

He noted that the board revised the new supply plan in negotiations Thursday and signed an agreement for up to 30 million additional doses, with 4.5 million doses being certain. Koca went on to say that negotiations for adenovirus-based vaccines developed in Russia and England are also ongoing. The minister said the vaccine is sufficiently safe and effective according to the results of research and studies that Turkish scientists conducted.

The Urgent Use Approval process, which will be granted once the necessary tests are completed, has been started accordingly, he added. Over 10,000 volunteers have received 17,700 doses of the vaccine so far, and the results are still being observed, Koca said. He said phase 1 and 2 studies found that the vaccine is safe to be administered to the elderly, classified as people who are 60 or above, who were not included in the phase 3 studies.

As the dispatches of the vaccine are received, citizens will be vaccinated according to the risk order determined by the board, Koca added. The vaccination will consist of two doses, with the second dose to be administered 28 days after the first.

WHO EU chief thanks Turkey

Turkey recently imposed strict restrictions to curb a surge in cases, from curfews to the closure of schools, restaurants and cafes. The number of daily cases followed a downward trend in the past week, dropping as low as 12,171 on Thursday. The current number of cases reported since March stands at 2.2 million, while fatalities have exceeded 22,000. The total number of recoveries has exceeded 2.1 million.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) European region chief thanked Turkey as the country follows its coronavirus recommendations, an official statement said Thursday.

“President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan’s activities and leadership are appreciated by all countries. I would like to congratulate you on your strong data and information delivery system,” Hans Kluge told Koca in a videoconference. Kluge also congratulated Turkey as a country that increased the scope of its vaccine studies, rapid COVID-19 diagnostic kits and genome sequencing studies.

During the meeting, Kluge and Koca discussed rising COVID-19 cases in Europe, mutations, the current situation in Turkey and vaccine studies.

“We have entered a period in which the number of cases is increasing in Europe and decreasing gradually in our country,” Koca said, adding that Turkey does not compromise on rapid testing, isolation and contact tracking.

Noting that Turkey is proceeding well on developing a national vaccine, Koca said the country has carried out all necessary work to delay the entrance of new mutations into the country. “We have implemented some travel measures regarding the countries where the mutation is seen and quarantine measures for those coming from these countries,” Koca said.

Kluge said there is no indication that the mutation increases mortality rates or aggravates the disease. However, contagiousness has increased, he noted, adding that public health measures should be increased all over the world. Kluge also recommended vaccination studies to be accelerated worldwide.