There is no doubt that President Recep Erdogan has been trying to downgrade the impact of Covid-19, since the very first reports about the virus. Turkey has raised international concerns, as Ankara was insisting up until March 10 that no Covid-19 incidents had reached the country. This claim has been particularly controversial, considering that the new Istanbul airport is one of the busiest hubs in the world, while simultaneously there has been a massive number of Chinese tourists and business travelers all across Turkey over the previous months. And of course, we should highlight that Turkey borders Iran, the second most impacted country after China back in early March. The allegation that Covid-19 has not reached Turkey by then was utterly bogus and misleading.
Turkey’s Misinformation and False Assertions
Since the beginning of the global outbreak, Turkey has been reluctant to address the problem and take decisive countermeasures. Instead, the government has adopted a rather irresponsible stance, implicating that an outbreak in Turkey was highly unlikely despite the signs from other countries were clear and should be concerning. There has also been considerable delay in terms of accurate and reliable governmental guidance on how people should respond to Covid-19. There have also been reports about Turkish people trying dubious recipes in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak has been moving from China to the Middle East and Europe, Turkey should react with transparency and responsibility in order to primarily protect their citizens and further the safety of the international community. However, the government decided to downplay the significant threat from the virus and have been trying until recently to ascertain the Turkish people that they should not be particularly worried about it. Once more and more cases were reported within Turkey, then the much-anticipated response came but it would not be farfetched to say that it’s been “too little too late”.
Ankara’s Anti-Coronavirus Measures
As per the latest measures adopted by Ankara, schools have been shut and restaurants, bars, and cafes have closed. Social and sports activities that involved the gathering of numerous people have been canceled while several travel restrictions have been imposed with many flights being suspended. Social distancing and self-isolation are also being advised, however, we have not seen a total lockdown as has been the case in many neighboring countries so far. At the moment of this writing on March 27, approximately 3,700 cases and 75 deaths have been reported in Turkey. There are important reasons to believe though that the in-country cases — and even the number of deaths — could be significantly under-reported, and also that these numbers will be rising dramatically on a daily basis in the weeks to follow.
During Erdogan’s latest televised speech, it has been mentioned that 8,500 suspicious incidents are being monitored in hospitals, while another 53,000 potential cases are being monitored at home. Apparently, there is a huge discrepancy between the official figures and the innuendo of the Turkish President. Also, Erdogan has tried to assure the Turkish people that the country will recover from the crisis quite soon, saying that the situation could get back to normal within the next two to three weeks through the appropriate measures and the right management.
This prediction exceeds even the most optimistic assessments; a more realistic estimation would be that within the weeks to follow the in-country cases will reach their peak and the consequences cannot be foreseen.
The Sharp Rise in Coronavirus in Turkey and Grim Economic Impact
The sharp rise in confirmed cases in Turkey is a worrying sign for the experts. The current findings suggest that the speed of the confirmed cases and deaths could present a violent outbreak in the days to follow, making Turkey one of the most affected countries of the virus. As has been noted so far, the initial numbers are not conclusive, and the virus can spread exponentially once a critical point has been reached. This has been the case in France and Spain so far despite the strict measures that have been imposed with a rather short delay. The unwilling response from the Turkish government could literally turn the country to the new Covid-19 hotbed.
Why is Erdogan Downplaying Coronavirus?
Ankara’s controversial stance has attracted much criticism but there seems to be a reason behind this inadequate reaction to the outbreak. Turkey has emerged as a new regional power over the last decade. Erdogan’s geopolitical maneuvers have rather isolated the country internationally.
Under normal circumstances, Turkey could negotiate with other major players taking certain risks and probably securing several gains. However, amidst the current crisis, Turkey has not an international backer to ensure the stability and continuity of the country’s already tense economy. There are no EU mechanisms to support Ankara, and of course, the Turkish economy cannot be even compared to nations such as the US and China. Considering that some of the sectors most impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, like the tourism and airlines industries, are of critical importance to the country’s economy, one would understand why Erdogan is struggling to extend the “business as usual” mindset across many sectors of the country.
Official sources keep saying that the 5% growth target is still feasible for 2020, with the Minister of Treasury and Finance of Turkey, ascertaining that this will be the case. This absurd claim implies either that Turkish officials are trying to calm people with false statements, or that the global upcoming recession — since this is the most probable scenario due to the Covid-19 crisis — will be mostly absorbed by the Turkish base population. This potential could lead to extreme social and political unrest in the country. In either case, the 5% target is completely unrealistic. Amidst this environment of uncertainty and international isolation the Turkish lira will be under strong pressure in the months to follow — and recession will be looming.