UPDATE – Turkey sees less than 10,000 new COVID daily cases for 1st time since March 1


By Gozde Bayar

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey on Thursday saw fewer than 10,000 new COVID-19 daily cases for the first time since March 1, said the country's health minister, marking a key milestone in the country’s fight against coronavirus.

After a meeting of the country's Scientific Committee, Fahrettin Koca told a press conference that the number of daily cases fell below 10,000 after a 17-day lockdown which ended early this week.

He stressed that Turkey has the potential to vaccinate more than 1.5 million people per day.

Koca added that Turkey could start Phase 3 studies of its national COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of June.

If the studies conclude successfully, national vaccines may be used with emergency use approval by September, Koca added.

"The vaccination rate for over-65s has reached 84%," Koca said.

Turkey will continue vaccinating people gradually, going down to age 20 in June if there is no problem with vaccine supplies, he added.

Turkey will continue its fight against the pandemic with widespread vaccination and personal precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance, he said.

– BioNTech to send 30M vaccines by end of June

Joining the press conference virtually, Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said they want to send 30 million vaccine doses to Turkey by the end of June.

Sahin, who comes from a Turkish family that immigrated to Germany, added that they would complete sending all 120 million doses in July, August, and September.

"We will work day and night to send vaccines to Turkey on time," Sahin added.

Stressing that he was "proud" as a Turk when he heard about the vaccination work in Turkey, Sahin said they want to both produce vaccines and do research and development in Turkey.

Underlining that they tried the vaccine on more than 30 virus variants, Sahin said it also works against mutations.

“We also tested the Indian mutation this week. Our vaccine has 25-30% efficiency against the Indian variant. We expect 70-75% protection from infection,” he said.

Stressing that high antibodies are achieved after the first dose of BioNTech vaccine in those who are infected, Sahin said that this antibody level is the same as people who were not infected and got two vaccine doses.

He suggested that third doses should be given in 2022, six to nine months after second doses.

Turkey started a gradual normalization process on Monday from a 17-day lockdown after the measures led to a drop in cases nationwide.

Until June 1, the country will enforce weeknight curfews from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., while weekends are under full lockdown.

Since December 2019, the pandemic has claimed over 3.41 million lives in 192 countries and regions, with nearly 165 million cases reported worldwide, according to figures compiled by the US' Johns Hopkins University.

The US, India, and Brazil remain the worst-hit countries in terms of the number of infections.