Turkey announces most extensive lockdown so far as coronavirus crisis mounts

By bne IntelIiNews December 2, 2020

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late on November 30 announced the country’s most widespread lockdown so far amid a surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.

Curfews have been extended to weeknights and a full lockdown will apply over weekends.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Erdogan said the weekday curfew would be implemented between 09:00 and 05:00, while the weekend lockdown would appy from 09:00 on Friday to 05:00 on Monday.

After strong and growing pressure from the medical community and the public, Turkey’s health ministry last week started reporting all positive tests for the virus. Prior to that, it was only releasing the number of symptomatic cases.

Among hardest-hit nations

Since the change to reporting of both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, daily cases have been running at around 30,000, putting Turkey among the hardest-hit nations in Europe.

Health Ministry statistics on December 1 showed 30,110 confirmed new infections and 190 new deaths. Daily fatalities in Turkey have hit record numbers for nine consecutive days, bringing the country’s acknowledged virus death toll to 13,936. The reality is far more shocking than the official figures, even with the added asymptomatic cases, many health professionals and opposition politicians insist.

The health ministry has not made available the figure on Turkey’s total of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases recorded since the coronavirus outbreak in the country was first officially acknowledged in early March. As things stand, Turkey ranks 18th in the world table of officially recorded infections. Were the missing figure to be released, the country might well move up many places, perhaps even overtaking Iran, which at 14th place, currently officially has the Middle East’s worst difficulties with the virus.

The new curfews began on December 1. Sectors including production, logistics, health care, agriculture and forestry are exempt from the curfews. Grocery stores and food delivery services are allowed to operate within certain hours during the weekend lockdowns.

In the spring, Turkey instituted temporary weekend and holiday lockdowns to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but the current infection and death levels are surging beyond the official spring numbers. Weekend night curfews for the past two weeks have done little to curb people’s movements, with Turkish media showing packed public spaces, The Associated Press reported.

20 health workers die in a week

The Turkish Medical Chamber (TTB) said 20 health care workers died in one week from COVID-19 complications. Intensive care unit bed occupation was around 71%, according to the health ministry, but some health care professionals have argued that in some localities it is much higher than that.

Erdogan also announced that people above 65 or younger than 20, who are allowed out for only three hours a day, would not be allowed to use public transport, those entering shopping malls would have to use a contact tracing code and weddings and funerals would be limited to 30 people. Provincial health authorities would be able to mandate limits on the number of people in malls, bazaars and public spaces like avenues and squares.

Erdogan also called on people to quit smoking, open their windows for proper ventilation and comply with mask-wearing guidelines and social distancing.

Preschools, Turkish baths, saunas, massage parlours, swimming pools and amusement parks have been ordered to close. Restaurants are only permitted to deliver food. Previously they were permitted to operate takeout services.

Erdogan also pledged that 50 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine would be administered free of charge, starting with health care workers next month. Turkey has an agreement with the Chinese pharmaceutical company SinoVac for deliveries of its vaccine.

Wage support extended

In line with the tighter coronavirus measures, Turkey has extended a government scheme that provides wage support to employees of companies hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The respective decree, signed by Erdogan and published in the Official Gazette, extends the partial wage support by three months. 

The deadline for new applications is December 31 and the scheme covers the following three months.

In September, the government extended by two months the layoff ban it introduced earlier this year to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 33% of Turkey’s labour force work in the informal sector, up from 31.7% a year ago, latest official data shows. 

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