Once a COVID-19 hotspot, Istanbul hospitals now less busy

As Turkey braces for a normalization process in March, the country’s most crowded metropolis Istanbul hopes to join others in lifting restrictions. The city, which has long been a hub of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases, has witnessed a considerable drop. The latest figures from the first two weeks of February show there are now around 60 patients per population of 100,000 people. The city’s top health authority hails a decline in workload at the hospitals. “Our hospitals are now back to their normal function,” professor Kemal Memişoğlu, head of the Directorate of Health for Istanbul said on Monday.

Memişoğlu also assured the public that the number of patients suffering from virus variants, which prompted concerns in other cities, was not high. “There is no need to panic,” he said.

Based on the number of cases in each of the 81 provinces and progress in the vaccination drive, Turkey will gradually lift restrictions locally next month. These include curfews and the closure of businesses like restaurants and cafes. Istanbul, a commercial hub where more than 15 million people reside, was among the first cities to report coronavirus cases back in March 2020. Tight restrictions and mandatory mask-wearing helped it to curb the numbers which once constituted 40% of all cases in the country.

Memişoğlu told Ihlas News Agency (IHA) that the city managed to cope with a high number of cases last year and credited the construction of new hospitals with successfully addressing the unprecedented health crisis. “Emergency hospitals with 1,000 beds each were built in months. Most of the COVID-19 patients are under treatment in those new hospitals. We have reserved capacity in other hospitals against the possibility of an increase in the number of cases, but they mostly returned to their primary duties, that is, serving patients suffering from other diseases and conditions,” he said. He underlined that they did not drop their guard though, and contact tracing work was still underway. “I am grateful to the public for complying with measures, but they should be aware that the pandemic is not over yet. They should not relax the measures. Health care workers want to get rid of masks most, but we all should be patient. It is better to wear masks so that the restrictions would not be extended,” he said.

He also credited the constant use of masks with a significant drop in hospitalization for other health conditions. “We have a 25% decline in hospital admissions. This is largely related to people who do not apply to the hospitals for diseases and conditions that can be treated at a future date. Most importantly, mask use led to a drop in the number of flu cases as those masks also protect people from contracting the flu,” he said.