Turkey, World, Health, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Steps taken by countries in fighting COVID-19 pandemic

From evacuating citizens to closing borders, supporting business world, countries adopted strict measures to tackle pandemic

Emre Aytekin   | 20.04.2020
Steps taken by countries in fighting COVID-19 pandemic

ANKARA

More and more countries have been forced to adopt strict measures to fight coronavirus, which first appeared in China late 2019 and quickly spread to other countries, resulting in over 166,000 deaths so far.

Initial measures such as shutting down borders and halting international flights were followed by domestic transportation restrictions, curfews and bans on mass mobility.

The countries most affected by the virus experienced heavy burdens on their healthcare systems and witnessed shortages of medical equipment, medication and sanitary materials.

While the measures aimed to stem the spread of the virus, they almost fully shut down daily life and economic activities, and governments quickly took steps to prevent such negative impacts.

With direct aids, supportive acts for employees and employers, governments across the world attempted to help citizens shoulder financial and social burdens of the pandemic.

Some of the significant measures taken by the countries, which have more confirmed cases compared to the others, are as follows:

Restrictions on travel, transportation

One of the very first measures taken by the international community was to close borders and suspend international flights, which were followed by restrictions on domestic mobility.

Turkey, for its part, shut down border gates and halted international flights whereas traveling within the country is now possible only if people have the permission of the provincial governor's offices. Traveling to or from 31 provinces has been suspended.

The other countries shutting down borders and adopting domestic measures were China, Iran, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, and Portugal. The U.S., Canada, Brazil, Russia, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Israel closed their borders to international flights, but they did not impose strict measures on domestic travel.

As for the U.K., Ireland and Germany, they did not adopt any measures on travel or mobility.

Measures to reduce mass mobility

In response to the spread of the virus, Turkey imposed restrictions on those over 65 years old or below 20, and they are not allowed to leave home.

Notably, a weekend curfew was adopted in 30 major cities and Zonguldak -- the Black Sea province where respiratory diseases are higher.

Countries most affected by the virus have so far adopted different policies on curfews. Italy, Spain, Russia, and India announced curfew, while the U.K., Ireland, and China preferred lighter restrictions. The U.S., Canada, Iran, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Brazil, Austria, and Israel did not impose a curfew, but they called on citizens to stay at home.

Measures such as closing borders, curfews, restrictions on transportation and travel brought daily life and commercial activities almost to a stop. The governments all around the world adopted supportive measures for employees and employers, who have been adversely affected by the outbreak.


Measures for work life

Turkey, to protect employees, banned companies from terminating employment or service contract for three months. "Short work allowance" was provided to companies that were forced to halt business due to the outbreak. Those workers whose contracts were terminated ahead of these policies -- before March 15 -- were provided with 1,177 Turkish liras (roughly $170), monthly during their unpaid leave or unemployment period. Employees benefiting from cash compensation were also included in the General Healthcare Insurance. As for the retired seniors, their Bayram (festival) allowance was paid a month earlier.

In addition to Turkey, some other countries such as Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Brazil also adopted measures aimed at protecting workers from unemployment. The U.S., U.K., China, Iran, Belgium, Russia, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, India, Ireland, and Israel did not follow a similar approach.

Apart from Turkey and France, no other country made extra payments to seniors, whereas India made contributions to pension funds to help the poor.

Authorities in Turkey, the U.K., and Russia brought pensions to the doors of the elderly who are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus.

Measures at health institutions, healthcare system

The spread of the virus brought a heavy burden on the healthcare systems in the most affected countries, and stocks of healthcare equipment and medication began to melt. They faced problems in supplying basic protective gear such as masks and gloves as well as testing kits and treatment services.

Turkey has never had any difficulty in meeting the demands for masks as private and public institutions began to produce and distribute those to citizens free of charge. The healthcare organizations were provided with 3.6 million N95 type medical masks.

While treatment for COVID-19 is provided free of charge in Turkey, 1 million rapid testing kits were also distributed nationwide. The entire healthcare system was mobilized to battle the virus, and all private hospitals were turned into pandemic hospitals. Notably, the authorities started to build two new hospitals in Istanbul.

The performance-based payments to the health personnel were provided at the ceiling level for three months.

Countries with the most confirmed cases offer COVID-19 tests free of charge, with the exceptions of Brazil and the Netherlands. The treatment for the disease is offered free in all countries apart from the Netherlands.

The U.S. partly covers the treatment expenditure, whereas Iran charges people with 10% of the total cost.

There is no free distribution of medical masks in countries other than Turkey, Spain, and Italy.

Although Turkey, Germany, China, Brazil, Switzerland, Portugal, and Israel do not have any problems in providing medical masks, this continues to be a trouble for other countries, especially the U.S. which has reported the most cases and deaths due to the virus.

As for the medical equipment need, countries such as Turkey, Germany, China, Russia, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Portugal are on the safe page compared to the others on the list.

Turkey, the U.S., Germany, China, Russia, Brazil, Switzerland, and Austria do not have trouble in accessing diagnosis kits, whereas that is not the case for the others.

The bed capacity of hospitals does not meet the needs in the U.S., Spain, the U.K., China, Belgium, and India; additionally, seven countries feel the need to raise the number of intensive care units and 15 others are in need of medication.

Turkey and five other countries are the only ones to provide extra financial support to healthcare employees.

Evacuation operations, international solidarity

Responding to the calls of expats, many countries took steps to evacuate their citizens living abroad.

Turkey became one of the very first countries to step into action, and brought thousands of expats from Asia and Europe. A total of 25,000 Turkish citizens from 59 countries, who can not return due to travel bans, will be brought back to the motherland in the coming week.

So far, the evacuation figures of the countries go as follows: the U.S. 63,000; Spain 24,000; Italy 60,000; France 148,000; Germany 240,000; the U.K. 7,500; China 1,457; Belgium 6,000; Brazil 13,000; Russia 150,000; Canada 5,000; the Netherlands 5,000; Switzerland 2,700; Portugal 7,500; Austria 7,500; India 125,000 and Ireland 250.

In a bid to support the international solidarity amid pandemic, Turkey dispatched medical equipment to nearly 30 countries, including the U.K., Spain, Italy, and the Balkan countries.

Apart from Turkey, China extended help to 120 countries whereas the U.S. distributed medical equipment to 42. India helped 31 countries, and Russia provided support for 10 countries.

Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.K., Portugal, and Israel were among the other countries which provided medical equipment for the sake of international solidarity.

Economic measures

Turkey took economic measures in a bid to limit the impact of the virus, easing tax and loan burdens of the businesses.

People and companies are now able to pay income tax and corporate tax at a later time and the enterprises most affected by the outbreak will be able to pay their value-added tax and payment of premiums six months later.

Those companies whose cash flow has declined will be able to pay their capital credit and interest payments three months later while they were also financed by the state.

On condition that they do not reduce their employees, the companies affected by the outbreak were provided with financial support between 10 to 100 million Turkish liras ($1.4-$14.4 million).

With the exception of Brazil, Switzerland, and Israel, all of the countries with highest confirmed cases made it easier for the private sector to postpone the payment of their taxes. Severely affected companies were provided with funding, credits, and financing. In addition to Turkey, some other countries to provide credit support to companies were Spain, France, Germany, China, Iran, Russia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and India.

Social assistance

Steps were taken to reach the needy and strengthen social solidarity during the pandemic.

Turkey has given 1,000 Turkish liras ($150) cash support to 2.1 million low-income households, and decided to reach to another 2.3 million households to support nearly 4.5 million low-income families in total.

The country also raised the amount of funds provided to the social assistance and solidarity foundations to 180 million Turkish liras (nearly $26 million). In addition Turkey decided to transfer over 352.8 million Turkish liras ($50.8 million) additional resources to these foundations.

Financial support programs for the needy have been put into effect in all countries with the highest number of cases, except the Netherlands and Switzerland.

* Writing by Ali Murat Alhas and Gozde Bayar.

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