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Turkey confirms first coronavirus case, wins WHO praise for vigilance

2 min read

Turkish Health Minister Koca speaks during a news conference in Ankara

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on Wednesday, becoming the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “vigilant, cautious” measures to delay the disease.

Turkey’s tourism sector, which accounts for about 13% of its economy, stepped up calls on the government for financial help to deal with the expected negative impact of the outbreak.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed early on Wednesday that a Turkish man with a high fever and cough had been diagnosed as having the virus and had been isolated.

“This is the first case confirmed in our country. The findings show the diagnosis of coronavirus was made early and if the virus has spread it is limited,” he told a news conference.

“Our country is prepared for this, all measures to prevent the spread (of the virus) have been taken,” he said, referring to comprehensive screening and testing programs.

Until the announcement, Turkey – a member of the Group of 20 biggest global economies and a major transit hub between Europe, Asia and Africa – had officially managed to avoid an outbreak, though all its neighbors except war-ravaged Syria had reported cases. Iran has an especially high number of cases.

In an interview hours before the announcement of the first case, Irshad Shaikh, the WHO Health Security Program Leader in Turkey, praised Ankara’s preventative measures and good organization, saying it had been “very lucky, vigilant and cautious”.

GEARING UP FOR BATTLE

The WHO has given guidance globally, and is in contact with health officials in Turkey on legislation, risk management, testing and screening practices, among other issues, he said. “In all those areas…Turkey has taken that to heart.”

“Turkey is an advanced country, and most of the systems were already there. What was needed was to make sure they are quick to this outbreak,” Shaikh told Reuters.

Turkish Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and tourism officials met in Ankara just before the first case was announced to discuss possible repercussions of the outbreak.

The Tourism Evaluation Council said it suggested financial support for tour operators and airlines, reductions in utilities costs, and measures to increase bookings. The sector is “starting to be negatively impacted”, it added.

Ankara has said that all 81 of its provinces are geared up to handle a potential outbreak and that it has set up seven test centers across the country.

Turkey says it has developed its own testing kit, which it is also exporting to other countries, to get faster results.

(Additional reporting by Mert Ozkan in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen, Ezgi Erkoyun and Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

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