Chaos, confusion, comfort collide in Istanbul during 'full lockdown'  

A group of tourists carouse on a rooftop hotel in the touristic district of Sultanahmet while a Turkish maid clutches a dustpan and broom in the background. This photo symbolizes Turkish government's very clear position on pandemic management: locals have to abide by the restrictions but the country is open to the whims of tourists.

The last half of April and the first weeks of May is perhaps the most serene stretch of time to spend in Istanbul, as true, radiant spring is narrowly bookended by unpredictable winter and damp, scorching summer.
This sweet spot has unfortunately coincided with a full lockdown announced for most of the holy month of Ramadan, as Turkey's COVID-19 pandemic has spiraled out of control with record-setting daily cases being reported last month.
The terms of this lockdown include the closure of non-essential businesses, while people are only allowed to go out in their neighborhood and patronize the closest markets, green grocers, pharmacies, and banks between 10AM-5PM. This applies to Turkish citizens as well as foreigners holding residence permits (such as yours truly) but not to tourists, who are allowed to travel the country uninhibited.
This has created no small amount of scorn, as images went viral of a group of tourists carousing on a rooftop hotel in the touristic district of Sultanahmet while a Turkish maid clutched a dustpan and broom in the background. It symbolized the government's very clear position on pandemic management: locals have to abide by the restrictions but the country is open to the whims of tourists, though they won't be able to find a place to sit down and eat and drink outside of their hotel.
For the rest of us, we technically are only allowed to do essential shopping between 10 and 5, but it is immediately clear that not everyone is abiding. Many are using this time to get some sun and fresh air, and a recently-renovated park a couple blocks away from my apartment in the Kurtuluş neighborhood was nearly packed with families picnicking and kids playing. Who could blame them?
Ironically, the full lockdown has resulted in some of the busiest streets, largest crowds and longest lines that I've seen, pre or post-pandemic. As banks have restricted the number of customers allowed inside at once, extended queues have formed, and it's not hard to imagine that many of the people waiting glumly underneath the bright sun are in dire financial straits and applying for new lines of credit. Right before 5PM, several dozen people were waiting to five ATMs adjacent to the Carrefour supermarket at the end of Kurtuluş Avenue, while a similar number of people lined up outside a store that was selling nuts, grains, spices and sweets at slashed rates.
The lockdown has also restricted what can be sold in markets, among the off-limit items include alcoholic beverages, glassware, and electronics. It wasn't long before images surfaced of shelves with sanitary pads, tampons and condoms blocked off with tape, sparking outrage that the sale of these items were prohibited, and that it was an extension of the alcohol ban, which has largely been perceived as lifestyle intervention on the behalf of the government.
Evidently some stores were simply confused as to whether or not they could sell the items in question, opting to take the safe route and cordon them off. However it turned out there wasn't an outright ban as they were for sale at markets and stores in my area. The controversy, however, was another element of the confusion that has followed the measures and restrictions implemented by the government throughout the pandemic, which have been marked by vague wording leaving even native speakers of Turkish perplexed.
Nearby in the upmarket district of Nişantası, the main streets were unusually empty. Normally they would have brimming with pedestrian traffic but the high-end retail clothing stores, boutique shops and chic restaurants that attract locals and tourists alike are all closed. The more residential backstreets were livelier, and a small park was full, benches occupied by retirees and groups of young adults hanging out on the grass and under the trees. Normally this would be a fineable offense, but there are no police in sight.
It's a bewildering time as ever to walk Istanbul's central neighborhoods, the fact that all of us are still masked and liberally applying lemon-scented disinfectant cologne are constant reminders of the danger that potentially lurks everywhere. Yet it is impossible not to feel a sense of nature-induced bliss, a swift injection of oxytocin from the warm, sunny spring spy, blooming flowers, and deepening shades of green that we have come to appreciate and crave all the more as we spend most of our time stuck between four walls.

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