Vaccinations against the coronavirus have started in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), with the President Ersin Tatar (pictured top), Prime Minister Ersan Saner and Health Minister Dr Ali Pilli among the first to receive the shots.
The government is aiming to inoculate 300,000 people in North Cyprus against the deadly virus by March, which would allow the tourism season to commence in April 2021.
Speaking on the breakfast show Günaydın Haber Kıbrıs on Thursday morning, 14 January, ahead of receiving the vacine, Health Minister Pilli said the TRNC’s vaccination programme of the entire country should be completed in two months:
“I said that we would be ahead of other countries for vaccinations. Our people should feel relaxed as we will provide the required [amount of] vaccines to complete the vaccination programme by March.”
The Minister also told viewers that once the country was inoculated from Covid-19, tourists could be admitted to the TRNC providing they present a vaccination card. He said the aim was for tourism to restart in April.
The news will be welcome relief to the tourism sector, which has been badly affected by the strict coronavirus measures adopted by the TRNC government since March last year, when the world was largely shut out in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Tourism is crucial to the TRNC economy, accounting for nearly a quarter of the country’s annual income. The government’s decision to close the country’s airspace to flights last March, followed by mandatory quarantine for those visiting North Cyprus in the summer when restrictions were eased, led to hotel occupancy plummeting, with huge knock-on effects for related sectors, including leisure and transport, which rely on tourism for their income.
Few, however, can argue with the TRNC’s public health strategy and policies given the outcomes to date. Since March 2020, only 11 people have died from coronavirus in North Cyprus and a total of 1,850 positive cases recorded, according to stats from the Health Ministry issued on 14 January.
The focus is now shifting from containment to protection against the virus, so life can return to normal.
Media captured the moment President Tatar, Prime Minister Saner and the Health Minister Pilli were given their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
Speaking afterwards, Dr Pilli noted that while many countries were currently struggling to obtain the vaccination due to high demand, the TRNC had already received its first 20,000 doses of Sinovac and thanked Turkey for its support:
“As the world struggles to find the vaccine, thanks to Turkey 20 thousand vaccines have reached us.. Thank you to the Turkish authorities.”
Responding to a question on concerns some people have about the coronavirus vaccination, Minister Pill said:
“Safety and efficacy have been proven in these vaccines. Those who hesitate to get vaccinated should ask those who have coronavirus if it is [more] important to be infected with Covid 19 or to get vaccinated,” before adding, “I’ve been vaccinated, and I don’t feel any side effects.”
Nine vaccination centres have been set up across the TRNC, with 5,000 health and care workers to be prioritised.
The EU was also sending 1,000 Covid-19 vaccinations to the TRNC – it is not clear which one – that would be used for inoculating the over 65s, the Minister said.
China’s Sinovac vs other coronavirus vaccines
Produced by China, Sinovac has had the lowest level of effectiveness compared to data about the various other coronavirus vaccinations available.
Clinical trials in Brazil last year found the efficacy of Sinovac to be as low as 50% – the drug’s effectiveness seemingly dropping in milder cases. Tests by Indonesian, Emirati and Turkish health officials, however, have found the vaccine to be effective in 65%, 85% and 91% cases respectively.
Clinical trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines have been found to be effective in over 90% of cases. However, the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are significantly more expensive, with each dose costing £25 and £15 respectively, while Oxford-AstraZeneca costs just £3.
In contrast, the quoted cost of a single dose of Sinovac has varied from £9.50 to £21. It’s not clear how much Turkey has paid for its order.