Over the coming weeks Pyramid Temi Group will be publishing a series of updates from our regional hubs. The objective of the updates is to deliver informed comment and insight from our experts as to how a series of countries are addressing the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) emergency.
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The worldwide impact of Covid-19 has not spared Turkey. We spoke with the Managing Director at Pyramid Temi Group’s local partner company, and Andy Williams,Regional hub Director for Turkey and the Near East, to understand more about what the current situation actually is and which issues will be the most critical over the coming months.
Q: Over the past few days Turkey has confirmed a number of cases of COVID-19 within its borders. As part of the containment strategy, Ankara has decided to suspend all passenger flights to and from almost 50 countries including China, Italy and South Korea. Do you expect this to be enlarged to other countries or for other measures to be introduced?
A:In addition to the ban on passenger flights from these countries foreign citizens who were physically present in these countries in the last 14 days are not permitted to transit or enter Turkey. As regards Turkish citizens, including dual nationals, who were in these countries over the past 14 days they are allowed to enter Turkey but may be subject to a quarantine requirement.
Q: What other containment measures have been put in place?
A: The Government of Turkey closed its land borders with Iran and Iraq, as well as the Dilucu land border crossing. Turkish Ministry of Health officials screen travellers at airports and maritime ports, as well as some land crossings, using thermal cameras. To date, travellers do not need any specific health documentation to enter or exit Turkey but that may change.
Q: What’s the situation as regards Quarantine measures?:
A:If an individual presents COVID-19 symptoms, the Turkish Ministry of Health guidelines are to send that person to a designated hospital for testing and possible observation under quarantine for 14 days. On March 12, the Turkish government announced that all primary, middle and high schools (public and private) will close effective March 16, and these schools will begin online/distance learning beginning the week of March 23. Additionally, all universities were closed on March 16 for an initial period of three weeks. Another interesting measure that the Government implemented regards thousands of pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia who were taken into quarantine due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
Q: Quarantining several thousand pilgrims is a huge logistical challenge, how has it been conducted?
A:Television pictures showed buses transporting pilgrims along the highway from Ankara’s airport to the city as part of an operation to place those returning into student dormitories. The Youth and Sports Ministry stated that the pilgrims were to be kept under observation for 14 days in five different student dormitories – in the capital Ankara and the central Turkish city of Konya. Closing the universities for three weeks has created the capacity to host over 10,000 people in the dormitories, those that weren’t fully empty transferred the remaining students to other dormitories.
Q: Andy, as regional hub director for Turkey and the Near East you’re monitoring the situation closely, how is the Turkish population reacting to the spread of the virus?
A:At 9pm every night the whole of Turkey clap and applaud for doctors and nurses. This is announced on the public TV. There are public broadcast advertisements thanking security guards, cleaners and transport workers for ‘working so we can stay safe’. This is a good example of how the Turkish people are reacting. Turkey is a proud nationalist country and if an external crisis impacts the country then all Turks come together to support each other.
Turkey is also a faith-based country and the nation combines faith with nationalism to see themselves through a crisis.
Q: Which system is being enforced by the Turkish Government, the Chinese, South Korean, Italian or UK strategy?
A: As Turkey was behind the infection curve they had time to see what each nation was doing and what worked. The Turkish people are more disciplined and compliant to directions from their government, such as the Chinese, so long as they feel the government is not enforcing them to the extreme. Therefore, whole sections of the population will lock down and self isolate. As the country is an Executive Presidency, quick, unilateral and countrywide decisions can be made if necessary for the greater good, such as quarantining people on mass by relocating them to quarantine camps if necessary, as happened with plane loads of pilgrims returning from Makkah.
Turkey is one of the youngest populations in continental Europe with only 8% of the population over 65, therefore they can more easily control and isolate the population. Any comparison with Italy, which has the second oldest population in the world, cannot be made.
While testing has been increased, it started later than in South Korea and Germany when they were at similar stages. The government has directed all private hospitals to become pandemic clinics to build greater capacity in anticipation of higher infections.
Q: How are people reacting to the Government’s choice and are people following government instructions?
A:Turkey is an inherently paternal society (Ataturk means father of Turks) and on the whole citizens take note of what their government tells them. At the moment people are following government instructions without any need of government enforcement measures and the situation is calm.
There is a “stay at home at all times” curfew for the over 65’s. If they are seen to be outside they can be fined and returned home.
Q: How is the private sector being affected by the present status?
A: The same as in Europe and the rest of the world, a temporary economic turndown across all sectors as the country is told to self isolate.
Q: Has the Government enlisted the assistance of the private security sector?
A:The business model of much of Turkey’s economy is based on a public private partnership approach, especially on infrastructure projects. The private security sector is one of the biggest employers in Turkey and is already established in working with the government.
Q: In terms of forecasts, what’s on your radar screen, do you have any particular fears or concerns?
A: Short-term so long as the internet and wifi connection works and public utilities provide electricity and essential services there are no concerns as the Turks will work with each other against an external crisis rather than against each other. So long as the young have the internet and wifi they will feel connected.
Long-term it is the same as all countries around the world, if the good of current self isolation and social distance is undone by irreversibly breaking the economy and fabric of society, then things could turn ugly.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewees. They are published in good faith and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PTG.