ISTANBUL AFP April29, 2020 - Voices reverberate around the room in Turkey’s busiest medical emergency hotline in Istanbul, where there has been a surge in calls during the coronavirus crisis.
Wearing masks and sitting in front of screens where they have a list of questions, the centre’s employees are some of those who have witnessed first hand the size of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 3,000 people in Turkey.
The majority of Turkey’s cases have been recorded in Istanbul, a city of 15 million. “We are ground zero for COVID-19,” said Fatih Turkmen, the ambulance service chief of the centre, handling calls on the European side of the city straddling two continents.
Turkmen said the centre received between 30,000 and 35,000 calls a day, reaching almost 40,000 at points during the pandemic, although some requests are not related to coronavirus.
The average number of calls to the centre before the crisis was around 20,000 a day, he told AFP.
If there is a suspected case of coronavirus or an illness that might require an ambulance, the call handlers can ask a doctor nearby to help with further questions.
When ambulances are needed, they are swiftly dispatched, often with sirens blaring on the unusually quiet streets of a once-bustling city.