BA.5 variant dominates COVID-19 cases in Turkey

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The number of coronavirus cases is piling up in Turkey, with an eightfold increase in just one month reported earlier in July. Turkey has eased coronavirus restrictions in light of daily cases falling to lowest levels earlier this year. BA.5, a variant of the infection, is responsible for the increase. About 80% of cases come from the variant, which is able to infect people even outdoors, unlike earlier less severe variants.

Experts are calling on the public to take their protective measures as total closures are out of the question for now, authorities say. They recommend wearing protective masks indoors and outdoors if in crowded areas.

Levent Yamanel, a member of the Ministry of Health’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, told the Sabah newspaper on Wednesday that the BA.5 variant spreads “4 to 5 times faster” than omicron and can be contagious even at home. ‘outdoors. He said Turkey has about the same prevalence of the new variant as other countries. “People should take personal action. They must wear masks, respect the rules of social distancing and hygiene,” he said. Yamanel noted that some patients ended up in intensive care; most of them were people aged 65 and over and people with chronic illnesses. “We are now seeing people with suppressed immune systems in intensive care,” he said. He also urged the public not to neglect vaccination.

Professor Alper Şener, another board member, who also works as an infectious disease expert at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, said he witnessed an increase in outpatients and hospitalizations in intensive care. “Those in intensive care are the unvaccinated patients,” he added. “The number of patients will increase, but we don’t expect a similar increase in the number of patients requiring intensive care,” he said.

Şener said it was important to break the cycle of infections, which is possible by wearing masks. “Variants are ineffective against masks. People must wear masks if they mingle with crowds, even outdoors. For example, we see people diagnosed with COVID-19 after attending outdoor weddings,” he said. “To believe that you will have a mild case at any time even if you are infected is a mistake. You can also suffer long-term symptoms after your recovery and be at risk for loss of taste and smell, brain damage and heart problems,” he said.

Two new variants of the virus appear to more easily evade immune protection from previous infections, meaning even some people who have recovered from a case of COVID-19 in recent months may become a clean slate for the virus . Doctors say vaccines remain effective in largely preventing hospitalizations and deaths. The omicron family variants, BA.5 and BA.4, are now the dominant strains in some countries, including the United States.

Even as vaccines, along with new therapies that treat COVID-19, increasingly make the virus less lethal upon infection, its ability to continue reinfecting people at a rapid rate raises the specter of disruption. continues as many countries continue to face supply chain issues. And much is still unknown about the long-term health impact of COVID-19, doctors say, with mounting evidence that past infections may put people at higher risk of other medical conditions.

Turkey has avoided the worst of the pandemic in recent months after grappling with new highs in the number of daily cases. Experts link the drop in coronavirus cases to the less severe omicron strain, which has contributed to a drop in hospitalizations. A vaccination campaign, which began in January 2021, has also significantly reduced the prevalence of cases. In light of positive developments, Turkey has gradually eased pandemic-related restrictions. Currently, none of the previous strict restrictions, from social distancing to mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, exist, while hospitals are the only places where the public is required to wear protective masks.

Still, experts warn that the risk remains for people with chronic conditions and the elderly, advising them to take self-protection measures, including wearing protective masks. Health authorities announced earlier that most hospitalizations and deaths were among the elderly and people with other illnesses.

Since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020, more than 15.5 million people, slightly less than the population of the country’s most populous city, Istanbul, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 100,000 people have died from the infection. Turkey launched a nationwide vaccination campaign in January 2021. It reached nearly 150 million doses. More than 53 million people are now receiving their two doses of the vaccine, while an additional 27.9 million people have received a third dose of vaccines from China’s Sinovac or the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech.

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