Turkish doctors dispute official count of coronavirus infections

A leading association of Turkish doctors said on Tuesday that nearly 1,000 people are being infected with the coronavirus every day in Ankara alone, questioning the accuracy of government figures which put the daily nationwide tally of new cases at around the same level.

“The number of new cases has gone up significantly over the past week,” said Ali Karakoc, the general secretary of the Ankara Chamber of Doctors, Turkey’s second largest with 13,000 members. Official data “fail to reflect the true state of play in the country.”

The Ministry of Health declined to comment when asked about the allegations of discrepancies.

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The intervention caps days of criticism from opposition politicians and some doctors who say the daily case count provided by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca portrays a far rosier picture than the reality. Experts began to raise doubts after the official figures began to conflict with regional and provincial numbers.

Aydin Barus, governor of eastern Malatya province, said on Aug. 1 that there had been more than 100 new daily cases there in the preceding four days, according to the Hurriyet newspaper. The government reported fewer than 50 cases during that period for a broader region including Malatya and seven other provinces.

Koca has been warning of a potential spike in new cases due to poor social distancing, especially in coastal towns where millions of Turks flocked after the government declared victory against the virus in June and eased restrictions to rescue a deteriorating economy.

Even so, the official daily count of new infections has remained stable at under 1,000, while authorities stopped providing a detailed breakdown of patients in intensive care units or on ventilators. Hospitals are fast running out of beds and new patients are being asked to quarantine and take medication at home.

“It seems as if they are making an effort to keep the daily coronavirus number below 1,000,” Bulent Nazim Yilmaz, secretary general of the Turkish Medical Association, told Bloomberg by phone. “The numbers we receive on the infected and hospitalized patients are way above the official figures.”

On Tuesday, the governor’s office in the capital, Ankara, ordered all coronavirus patients except those with serious conditions to be diagnosed, isolated and treated at home. Hospitals were instructed to reserve at least half of their beds for virus patients, according to instructions sent to healthcare officials seen by Bloomberg.

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