By Murat Paksoy
ISTANBUL (AA) – Strong measures Turkey has taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak as well as its solid public health system and generous social assistance schemes have made the country a model for many others in the fight against the deadly virus.
COVID-19 outbreak was first detected on December 12, 2019, in Wuhan in Hubei province of China. It was later declared a "pandemic" by the World Health Organization.
As the virus have begun spreading rapidly around the globe, countries have reacted to the threat by announcing a series of counter measures accompanied by social restrictions in varying degrees.
Turkey has begun taking such measures promptly through an effective cooperation with all concerned public and private institutions to prevent the outbreak from entering and spreading in the country.
One of the most effective assets in fighting against the outbreak Turkey has at its disposal are the large number of hospitals and intensive care units per person.
The country was also quick to announce economic support packages to avoid disruption in production, giving away free masks for protection, making monthly pension payments of the elderly at their homes and sheltering the homeless, which have set an example to the entire world.
Apart from measures and assistance at home, Turkey has also provided support for more than 30 other countries, sending aid and exchanging medical experience.
As part of the measures, Turkey first closed its border crossings to the countries that were at risk and gradually to all the neighboring countries, and eventually banned all international flights.
Turkey airlifted 42 people from Wuhan, including 32 Turks, 6 Azerbaijanis, 3 Georgians and one Albanian, to Ankara on February 1 aboard an A400M cargo plane of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Turkey also brought back nationals from European countries and from other parts of the world. They were sent home after 14-day quarantine procedures were completed at public dormitories provided for them.
– Prompt measures taken after first case spotted
Turkey continuously updated measures in line with the recommendations of the Science Board of the Ministry of Health, which was established right after the outbreak began to spread in different parts of the world.
The Ministry of Health established field hospitals at border gates to prevent the entry of the virus as Turkish nationals were kept under observation in those field hospitals after their arrival.
Following the first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 11, Turkey began implementing new measures, suspending education in primary, secondary and high schools as well as at universities on March 16 and started offering home schooling via the Internet and television.
Public places such as cafes, shopping centers and entertainment venues were shut down. As part of the measures, public officials were banned from abroad and public events such as conferences, panels, exhibitions, meetings, workshops and conventions were canceled.
On the orders of the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, sanitation teams began frequent disinfection of public places, buildings and public transport vehicles.
The Directorate of Religious Affairs has moved to suspend prayers in congregations at mosques, including the Friday prayer.
– Turkish scientists manage to isolate coronavirus
The number of COVID-19 tests Turkey ran daily quickly surpassed 20,000 and the country has imported nearly 1 million boxes of a promising drug used as part of the treatment protocol of the disease.
Developers successfully completed works to design a mobile phone application to trace patients who have recovered from the disease during home-isolation period.
Prof. Dr. Aykut Ozdarendeli, with the Erciyes University in central Kayseri province, and Prof. Dr. Aykut Ozkul from Ankara University, have successfully managed to isolate the virus, a first step in finding a vaccine to the virus.
– Vefa Social Support Group
As Turkey declared a partial curfew for senior citizens aged 65 and over, the Interior Ministry has set up "Vefa Social Support Group" in provinces and districts to help those in need, particularly who live alone or with chronic ailments.
Vefa Social Support Group have reached more than 1.5 million senior citizens to meet their needs under the lockdown.
– Social benefit payments for families in need
The government has announced a TRY1,000 payment for families in need for more than 2 million households. The aid in cash were delivered directly to the houses of needy to make sure that social distancing measures are observed.
The government has also announced it will provide 2.3 million more households with the TRY1,000 financial aid.
The government has also doubled funds to cover intensive care unit treatment costs, paying hospitals an extra TRY660 per day for each patient diagnosed with the coronavirus.
– Housing, other needs of homeless met
Turkey has extended the partial curfew to include youngsters and children under the age of 20.
The government has launched a scheme to provide accommodation for the homeless in all 81 provinces of the country in public guesthouses or private hostels and hotels, and meet their basic needs such as food, cleaning, clothing and others until the threat of the epidemic is eliminated.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a donation campaign to support the needy as the drive has drawn some 1.54 billion Turkish liras so far.
– Masks delivered free of charge
Turkey made wearing of face masks in public places such as bazaars and shops mandatory as it began distributing protective masks.
"The sale of masks is prohibited," President Erdogan said in a statement. "Masks given at grocery stores are also free. Until the outbreak is over, we have enough mask stock and production planning for all of our citizens. As a state, we are committed to delivering masks to all our citizens free of charge," he said.
– 'Economic Stability Shield'
Under an economic measures package against the effects of the outbreak, "the Economic Stability Shield" program was launched by President Erdogan. The program included a TRY100 billion fund to be deployed to weather the effects of the outbreak.
The government announced that over two million taxpayers' value-added tax (VAT) and premium payments — totaling some 53.6 billion Turkish liras ($7.9 billion) — were postponed for six months.
Also postponed were the income taxes of 1.9 million who faced a Force Majeure, as well as the payments and declarations of taxpayers aged 65 and above.
Accommodations taxes, previously scheduled for this Summer, were also delayed until January 2021.
Easement and revenue share payments for renting hotel rooms were deferred for six months.
Separately, cuts in municipality budgets were postponed for three months, allowing access to 3 billion ($445 million) Turkish liras in additional funding.
The government has also provided flexibility for rental payments of properties owned by special provincial administrations, municipalities and their subsidiaries.
It will also pay the salaries of personnel forced to take unpaid leave due to the outbreak.
Despite physical classes being canceled to prevent infection, public schools will continue to pay untenured teachers and qualified instructors, who normally receive hourly wages.
To help shield retirees from the outbreak's negative effects, the minimum pension was raised to 1,500 Turkish liras ($221), with bonus payments moved to earlier dates.
Upon request, public banks will also deliver payments to pensioners' homes.
– Works for new hospital projects gain momentum
President Erdogan has said the first stage of a 2,682-bed hospital at Istanbul's Ikitelli district would be opened on April 20.
President Erdogan said Turkey will establish two more hospitals with a capacity of 1,000 beds each in Istanbul.
Erdogan said the hospitals would be on either side of the city.
"We will complete them quickly within 45 days and open them to the service of our people," he said.
The government also moved to send hygiene kits containing cologne and face masks to people aged 65 and over.
– Turkey extends helping hand to countries fighting COVID-19
Turkey also responded to calls from countries in need of urgent help in fighting the pandemic, sending medical supplies including personal protective equipment, drugs and others.
The country extended a helping hand to almost 30 countries, including the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, People’s Republic of China, Spain, Italy and some Balkan countries.
The government also authorized the transfer of 116 ventilators to Spain, which is in dire need of the breathing machines.
– Countries express gratitude for Turkey's help
Countries which had received support and assistance from the Turkish government have expressed their gratitude to the Turkish public and leaders.
"Thank you to #Turkey for arranging the flight to evacuate Georgian citizens from #Wuhan, China amid an outbreak of coronavirus. Such acts of support further reaffirm strong partnership and solidarity between our two countries," Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens praised Turkey for sending medical aid to Italy and Spain, worst hit in Europe by the coronavirus pandemic.
"#NATO solidarity in action: Turkey sending a cargo plane with medical supplies to Italy & Spain today to support our joint fight against #COVID19," said Jens Stoltenberg on Twitter.
"Proud to see NATO Allies supporting each other through our disaster relief center. #StrongerTogether," he added.
Also, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying thanked the Turkish government for sending medical supplies, including 1,000 biohazard jumpsuits, 93,500 filter masks and 1,000 single-use protective clothing.