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Turkish doctors warn of rise in COVID-19 cases during Eid al-Adha

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Worried about a potential rise in COVID-19 infections, Turkish health officials and doctors urged for increased vigilance during the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, during which millions travel across the country.

The Eid is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family gatherings and the sacrifice of animals, as well as visits to the elderly and cemeteries. But authorities and health experts have urged citizens to follow hygiene rules, including avoiding shaking hands, kissing and hugging each other, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

For nearly two weeks, the reported daily new cases in Turkey have stood between 900 and 1,000.

Additional measures have been imposed on marketplaces of sacrificial animals, which will be frequented by tens of thousands of customers during the feast.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also urged the public to strictly follow social distancing rules, wear a mask and obey hygiene measures, amid concerns that social interactions during the holiday can cause a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“The outbreak is continuing, the virus kills and leaves really nasty after-effects in the body, so everyone should remain extra careful during the holiday,” Dr. Hamit Ekinci, an emergency specialist from the southeastern town of Diyarbakir, told Xinhua.

The doctor, who works in a private clinic, stressed that in his city, the biggest in Turkey’s southeast with a population of some 1.8 million, new cases have risen to alarming levels in the past few weeks. The frustrating situation applies to neighbouring provinces as well, he remarked.

“In Diyarbakir alone, we have around 300 new cases per day, so it is quite high and with this holiday, which generates an increased mobility amongst citizens, we are truly worried,” he said.

Ekinci pointed out that cultural and socio-economic reasons were instrumental at causing new infection clusters in his less industrialized city, which is also home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country.

“Families of 10 to 20 members living under the same roof make a contagion very easy, and quarantine of infected patients becomes also very difficult as there is generally not enough space to accommodate them,” he added.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters that no travel restrictions was imposed during the holiday started on Friday in Turkey, but he called on everyone to take precautions.

Ozlem Kurt Azap, a professor of infectious diseases from Ankara, shared concerns, stressing that “public health cannot be left to the sole responsibility of citizens. Restrictions would have been useful to prevent infections during this mass population movement.”

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing a rise in new infections in almost every part of Turkey and we don’t want the gains that we have recorded in the past months to be reversed, it would be very harmful to our health system,” she said Thursday on private Fox TV channel.

Turkey has lifted on June 1 most of the coronavirus restrictions imposed in mid-March, allowing businesses, cafes, restaurants, parks, shopping centers and gyms to reopen in order to kick-start the already vulnerable economy.

Ekinci believed that the normalization process happened too fast and too soon.

“People think that the virus has disappeared or somewhat mutated in something less harmful, which is not true,” he said, warning that “the virus is still very dangerous and infectious.”

“Intensive care units are again refilling up in our region, let’s hope that the situation will not be worse after the holiday,” he added.

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