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    Here’s what I think: Charging money for coronavirus tests

    Outrage was sparked once again in Cyprus last week, as the Turkish Cypriot government announced that it would implement a fee for taking coronavirus tests, of both the antigen and PCR variety. After a rather muddled series of announcements, it transpired that everyone who wished to be tested for the coronavirus, regardless of vaccination status, would be charged, with the fees set at 40TL for an antigen test, and 100TL for a PCR.

    Here's what I think: Charging money for coronavirus tests 1
    Tom Cleaver

    The way that news of the decision reached the public was clumsy and poorly-handled. It seemed at first that vaccinated people would still be able to be tested for free, and that fees would only be implemented on the unvaccinated, effectively as a way to encourage them to be vaccinated themselves. However, a few hours after the original announcement, Prime Minister Ersan Saner clarified that everyone wishing to be tested would be charged.

    The first dissenting voice was, rather surprisingly, Minister of Health Dt. Ünal Üstel. He called the decision “wrong” and “unworkable”, and that it “does not comply with the realities of this country”, and went on to say that he would fight to overturn it. Minister of Finance Dursun Oğuz, whose idea it seemingly was originally, quickly struck back saying that “everyone was aware of the decision being made”.

    The majority of the public seemed (as expected) to side with Üstel, as charging people for something that was previously free is seldom a popular government policy. The opposition parties piled in, too, calling for free tests to be reinstated, and even for resignations. Some opposition politicians even joked with me that they would be able to win an election on a platform of nothing but free tests, such was the public disgruntlement.

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    Truth be told, the whole thing has been a bit of a muddle. Announcing an unpopular policy and then have two ministers publicly argue about it is not ideal government practice, but it is symptomatic of the state in which the government currently finds itself. The current government is the third different coalition to be formed since the last legislative elections in January 2018, and at some point or another every single party in the parliament has had a crack at government. The current coalition is pretty much this parliament’s last result, and consists of three parties which even combined cannot form an effective majority.

    This is not a slight on individual ministers – there have been some which have performed very well in their roles since this current coalition was formed last December – but I am of the belief that this current parliament has run its course, and that in trying to hold together this rickety three-party coalition, things will only get worse in terms of public discord between its members.

    I think this Autumn would be an ideal time to hold elections, but at the very least I do not think it would be wise to let this parliament run the full five years to January 2023. This country needs a stable and effective government with a vision that extends further than its own immediate survival, and I do not believe that that can be achieved with the parliament as it stands at the moment.

    The current decision effectively levies a weekly tax on everyone for going about their lives

    As regards to the decision itself, I’ve heard good points from both sides of the argument. The doctors and scientists to whom I have spoken are genuinely frustrated and exasperated at the section of society that has thus far chosen not to be vaccinated, and many see charging for tests as a simple and effective way of persuading more people to be vaccinated.

    However, for me the problem with this ruling arises from the surrounding circumstances. The government also announced that in order to enter certain places, even vaccinated people would need to produce a negative test. This includes but is not limited to gyms, bars, and concerts. In these circumstances, charging for coronavirus tests effectively levies a 40TL weekly tax on everyone for going about their lives, which is unfair in principle and really quite thoughtless in this period in which many families are struggling economically.

    I would therefore urge the government to rethink and water down this decision. Personally, I don’t see a problem with charging the unvaccinated for tests, or in charging everyone should being tested not be a requirement to go about one’s daily life, but the decision as it currently stands oversteps the mark as far as I’m concerned.

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