Pandemic drift

Publish date 06-09-2021

by Claudio Monge

Turkey in the heart of the emergency: the third wave stronger than expected.

For over a year, the pandemic crisis in Turkey had apparently been well controlled, with far less dramatic statistics than in much of the world. Two factors had contributed to keeping the mortality rate and the level of ICU admissions relatively low: on the one hand, the decidedly young average age of the country's population and on the other, a cultural tendency to keep the sick at home and not immediately contact the hospital for any health reason.

Until now, the government had also tried to limit the devastating impact of the virus on an already extremely fragile economy, avoiding total closures and favoring targeted measures for age groups, with alternating exit time limitations. For example, over 65s were only allowed to go out on weekends between 9 am and noon for long months. During the week, children under 12 could only go out in the morning, young people (between 13 and 20) between 13 and 16. A very original choice that paid off in many phases of the pandemic. Very early, however, very strict lock-downs began on weekends (from Friday evening at 9 pm, until Monday morning at 5 am), with exemptions for particular categories but also, more curiously, for people with foreign passports and tourist visas. of a few days (this evidently in order not to hinder business and even hit-and-run tourism). The generic weekly commercial activities have never known restrictions while the tightening involved, very soon, cinemas, theaters, restaurants (with the exception of take away) and entertainment venues of all kinds (limitations that are very well "expendable" in the context of propaganda politics with a religious matrix and moralizing purposes).

But since March, the third wave of the virus has presented a particularly steep and unexpected toll. In just one month, total deaths have risen by a third compared to the previous twelve months, and the country has jumped to fourth place worldwide in the number of new cases per day on a weekly average. The president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), raised the risk of collapse of the health system and, of course, fierce political controversy immediately erupted. Plenipotentiary President Erdoğan suffered a strong attack on his credibility, also due to the fact that he was forced to announce the toughest restrictions since the beginning of the crisis, on the eve of the second holy month of Ramadan in time of pandemic (to prevent greater damage, in a period characterized, generally, by special and unusual gatherings).

Meanwhile, the new man in Turkish politics, the mayor of Ankara Mansur Yavaş, of the main opposition party CHP, has dozens of murals painted in the capital in homage to health workers who have died since the beginning of the pandemic. Among them, the tribute to two characters alive and well stands out: Uğur Şahin and his wife Özlem Türeci, Turkish immigrants and founders of the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which has created together with the American Pfizer the drug to date perhaps most effective and with less contraindications, on the market. Şahin arrived in Germany with his mother, to join his father who worked at Ford in Cologne, in the late 1960s and here he met his wife, also of Turkish origin. The couple founded their first company, Ganymed, in 2001, which 15 years later was acquired by the Japanese giant Astella for 1.28 billion euros, thanks to the development of innovative antibody-based cancer therapies. BioNTech, Şahin founded it in 2009, with Türeci immediately occupying the position of chief medical officer.

They always work in the oncology field, but since January 2020, as soon as they read the first report on the explosion of the virus in Wuhan, they intuit that Covid-19 would have turned into a pandemic and immediately aim at the search for a therapy based on RNA messenger (molecule responsible for carrying the instructions contained in the genome to ensure that they are transformed into the final functional product: proteins), a completely new technology for vaccines. Erdoğan recently stated to them that their success in developing the vaccine clearly demonstrated what Turks can do if they are supported and given the opportunity.

Vague self-defeating statement, if you consider that the country he has been managing for almost twenty years, is vaccinating with the Chinese product Sinovac which, by admission of the producers themselves, has proved extremely weak in effectiveness, especially for the variants of the virus that seem to multiply in the country.

The mayor of Ankara has dozens of murals painted in the capital in homage to health workers who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Claudio Monge

NP Maggio 2021

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