Turkey on high alert against Omicron Covid-19 variant

by IANS |

Istanbul, Nov 30 (IANS) Turkey is on high alert to step up its measures against the new Covid variant Omicron, Turkish health experts told Xinhua.

Nurettin Yiyit, a member of the Turkish Health Ministry's Scientific Committee and the chief physician at Istanbul's Cam and Sakura city hospital, said on Monday that the Omicron strain has more spike protein mutations than ever before, some of which are alarming for their possible impact on the course of the pandemic.

"That's why we have to monitor the strain so closely to be able to take new and effective measures in time," Yiyit noted.

"We have to see whether it spreads quickly, whether it is deadly, and more importantly, whether Covid vaccines are effective or not," he said.

Turkey has closed its borders to passengers from Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe as a preventive action against Omicron, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Friday.

"If the virus is detected in Turkey, we will attach great importance to the contact tracing of the infected patients and declare new quarantine times accordingly," Yiyit noted.

In his view, the information of the vaccine-producing companies about the efficacy of their jabs against this variant will be essential in the battle against the pandemic, Xinhua news agency reported.

"For the moment, we don't have much to do, other than imposing travel restrictions, wearing masks, and observing the social distancing rule," he said.

Koca also noted that Turkey has been monitoring the development of the new variant and taking precautions accordingly.

Koca said on Twitter that the most common strain in Turkey is Delta, and Omicron has not been found yet.

Meanwhile, Mehmet Ceyhan, head of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Ankara-based Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, urged the authorities to expand the travel restrictions "as the variant is spreading faster than anticipated."

The strain has already spread to many countries, including some European countries and Australia, Ceyhan warned during an interview with the Haberturk broadcaster.

"Therefore, entries and exits to Turkey need to be under strict control," he suggested.

Ceyhan also noted that gathering at workplaces should be prevented by adopting flexible working hours.

"In the current wave (of the pandemic), we have not been able to reduce the number of daily cases below 20,000 for the last four months, and if the Omicron starts to spread, we would be in a difficult situation," he tweeted.

The inoculation rate of people with two vaccine doses is 60.6 per cent in Turkey, which has a population of 83 million, according to the latest data of the Health Ministry.

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