Turkey has overtaken China as the country with the most coronavirus infections outside of the United States and Europe. Turkey has now recorded 86,306 cases, with 2,017 deaths.
As the number of coronavirus cases has increased, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has sought to allay fears of an overwhelmed health system. Speaking on Friday, Koca said that unlike Western nations, Turkey’s hospitals still hold excess capacity and that intensive care units were not exceeding 60 percent occupancy. A licensed physician, Koca’s daily briefings have made him a star on social media over the course of the pandemic; he has gained over 4 million followers on Twitter since the beginning of the year.
Turkey’s problems with containing the virus came into focus on April 10, when a late announcement of a weekend curfew led to panic buying across the country. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu offered his resignation for the botched curfew that weekend, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept it. Although schools and bars have closed, Turkey has so far avoided implementing a full-scale lockdown, preferring weekend curfews instead.
During a call between the two leaders on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan agreed to continue their “close cooperation” during the pandemic.
How has politics played into Turkey’s response? Erdogan has been in a battle for power over coronavirus relief efforts with municipal governments since the epidemic began. Two of Turkey’s major cities, Ankara and Istanbul, are run by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and both found themselves blindsided by April 10’s hasty lockdown announcement.
The political decisions guiding Turkey’s response and how the rivalry between Erdogan and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu is shaping the government’s behavior is what one needs to focus on. “Erdogan sees Imamoglu, who defeated the AKP twice in Istanbul’s March 2019 mayoral election and a repeat race last June, as a major electoral threat…Anyone who runs Istanbul well can gain a foothold in national politics,” just as Erdogan—a former Istanbul mayor—once did, she writes.
Can Turkey’s economy handle another shock like this? Turkey’s economy was in bad shape before the pandemic hit, and finds itself in an even tougher spot now. On April 10 Reuters reported that Turkish officials had held talks with the U.S. Federal Reserve on securing a swap line from the bank. The Turkish currency recently plummeted to a near-historic low of 6.95 lira to the U.S. dollar and is currently trading at 6.88 to the dollar.
Writing in FP on April 9, Aykan Erdemir and John A. Lechner warned that Erdogan and his son-in-law, who is the finance minister, will need to adopt a new approach for Turkey’s economy to survive, “During an unparalleled crisis that calls for solidarity and trust within and among nations, unless the Turkish president stops doubling down on past mistakes, calamitous financial and public health crises await Turkey—and each of them will be contagious for the country’s trading partners near and far,” they argued.
Tessa Fox (FP)