Turkey has admitted it is publishing only a partial tally of confirmed coronavirus infections, stoking a political row that has been simmering for months over the true scale of the pandemic in the country.

The turkish health ministry changed the way it reported coronavirus cases in late july. in its daily table of covid-19 data, it replaced the words todays number of cases to todays number of patients.

In remarks that could have repercussions for turkeys crucial tourism sector, fahrettin koca, the health minister, said the term patients referred to those who had tested positive for the disease and displayed symptoms.people who had a positive test but were asymptomatic were not included in the tally, he said.

Not every case is a patient, he said at a press conference on wednesday night. because there are people who receive a positive test result but show no symptoms. these [cases] make up the vast majority.

World health organization guidance defines confirmed cases as a person with laboratory confirmation of covid-19 infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.

Mr koca rejected a claim made by an opposition mp that the true number of cases was almost 20 times higher than the governments official figures, which put the daily number of new patients on wednesday at 1,391. but he declined to provide a figure for the total.

Turkish doctors responded with anger to mr kocas comments. along withseveral high-profile opposition politicians, they have been warning for months that ankara is seriously under-reporting cases in an effort to protect the tourism industry and avoid further damage to the economy by imposing new lockdown measures.

Turkey doesnt deserve this, said sinan adiyaman, who recently stepped down as head of the turkish medical association, a doctors union. for six months we have been saying that if you hide the data, you cannot control the outbreak, he told the turkish newspaper sozcu. because the true case numbers have not been published, the public has felt relaxed.

The revelation could add to the woes of turkeys tourism industry, which is a vital source of foreign currency but was hit hard by the global travel shutdown earlier this year.

Last year almost 52m foreign tourists visited turkey, bringing in $34.5bn in revenues, according to government data. president recep tayyip erdogan said last week he hoped 15m would come by the end of 2020.

Official figures show 9.3m people visited the country in the first eight months of this year, mainly from russia, the uk, ukraine, germany and bulgaria, with 2.2m arriving in august.

Turkey is one of the few european destinations british holidaymakers can travel to and from without any quarantine requirements. the country hosted 261,000 uk visitors in august.

Germany, which has a large turkish diaspora and is one of turkeys top tourism markets, has been more cautious, imposing special provisions on germans travelling to most parts of the country despite appeals from turkish officials for such precautions to be dropped.