Turkey’s health minister Fahrettin Koca said late on March 10 that the country has confirmed its first coronavirus infection.
A male patient was diagnosed with the virus after tests and has been isolated, he said, adding that family members of the patient were now under observation.
Analysts were scratching their heads at Turkey’s official coronavirus-free status, especially given that the country neighbours Iran, experiencing the world’s third worst outbreak of the illness among its population of 82mn. Next-door Greece, meanwhile, by the morning of March 11 had reported 89 coronavirus cases.
There has been some speculation that Turkey, also home to around 82mn people, could be using faulty testing kits domestically manufactured. The government has insisted on the use of kits produced in Turkey.
Istanbul has been plagued by traffic jams given the mass avoidance of public transport by people who clearly doubt the official narrative on the coronavirus in Turkey.
Fear of hit to tourism
Turkey may fear a big hit to its big tourism industry is ahead if the country is seen to suffer markedly in the virus epidemic. The country’s economic situation is fragile and a severe impact felt by its tourism industry—which accounts for 13% of the Turkish economy—from coronavirus-triggered holiday cancellations would make it even more so.
On March 6, CNBC reported the irritation of Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, who was widely taken to be referring to countries including Turkey and North Korea, when he told reporters ahead of an OPEC meeting in Vienna: “I believe that we are announcing and declaring our situation and some countries don’t say anything about their situation.”
On March 7, as fears of a global recession mounted, one of S&P Global’s top sovereign analysts said that Turkey, other lower-rated emerging markets and some oil producers will face the biggest pressure on credit ratings from the coronavirus.
Frank Gill, S&P Global’s senior director of Europe, Middle East and Africa sovereign ratings told Reuters that “this coronavirus epidemic is clearly going to weigh on any tourism economy in 2020”.
One worry for many countries in the face of the coronavirus crisis is the prospect of their domestic currency tumbling, making it more costly to pay debt borrowed in hard currencies like dollars. “We are looking at Turkey very closely,” Gill said in relation to this point.