Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Turkey has developed its own variation of a lockdown. First, people older than 65 were ordered to stay at home, and then people under 20 were included in the order as well. Full curfews for everyone were then introduced for weekends and holidays. On workdays, many people continued working from home, while some kept going to the office. Most offices were allowed to make their own decisions about whether to send employees for home for telework or not. 

Gyms, restaurants and cafes have been closed, with only takeaway services for food still active. Istanbul traffic seems to be one of those things that’s impossible to ever fully shut down, and it has maintained occasional activity due to certain sectors remaining operational. 

People who have been able to stay at home turned their kitchens into bakeries, and tried to learn how to (and whether they even can) spend time with their family members. Some could not afford to stay at home and continued to work. Preliminary reports from the hospitals show that most COVID-19 cases have occurred among people age 20 to 60, which is the general age span of people who work.

The state prohibited firms from firing employees, but the option of a forced unpaid leave, with a daily 40 lira subsidy from the state, remained. For perspective, 40 lira could pay for two modest, individual meals a day. The state promised to deliver medical masks to everyone and banned public sales of masks in order to prevent a rise in prices. However, it turned out yet again that the state may not be the best and most trusted organizer and manager. In order to get the maximum five free masks from the state, one has to wait in line at the pharmacy, and then repeat the same process two weeks later. For the employed and people who are still working, masks are usually distributed through their employers. Trying to ensure safety by wearing a mask has become a cumbersome task, particularly for people who cannot afford to turn waiting in lines into a new profession.

At the same time, Turkey has been proving its global importance by sending medical supplies all over the world, including some of the biggest and the richest countries like the United States. Many citizens of Turkey — who have been having a hard time securing masks for themselves — would have never dreamed of their country being so powerful.

So has Turkey been successful or a failure in fighting the new virus? Like with most things in respect to the pandemic, it is really hard to say for sure. The government is obviously painting a picture of success. Turkey is the seventh country in the world when it comes to number of cases, and close to 3,500 people have died so far. And yet, the overall feeling is not one of panic or the collapse of the healthcare system, and nothing close to the scenes from Italy or Spain could be observed. The robust health system proved somehow to be strong and solid. This is certainly something to be thankful for.

On the other hand, many individual stories carry serious and troubling indicators that the worst has yet to come. Since the beginning of the crisis, a musician relative of mine has not been able to perform. His income depended on concerts and performances, so he and his wife have quickly come to the point where they are barely able to provide for their two kids. A friend of mine made the point that even with the same salary, she feels much poorer than before as so many things have doubled in price. She, like many others, has been trying to cut down on her living costs, which indicates an emergency situation. People are trying to rearrange their expenditures, and some are bargaining with their landlords and landladies about lowering rent. Some are in the planning process of changing their kids’ schools due to tightening budgets. According to the Istanbul Policy Center, 86 percent of Turkish households were financially affected by the crisis — either a member of the household lost his or her job, or their income decreased.

Many restaurants and cafes that were forced to shut down more than a month ago have gone bankrupt and will not re-open after this is over. People working there are or will soon be penniless. Some are returning to their parents’ homes to at least find shelter. 

When President Erdoğan and his son-in-law Minister of Finance speak these days, they often remind people there is nothing to be afraid of. One, however, does not need to be a financial expert to do a simple observation. A vast majority of people in our immediate surroundings have found themselves in either somewhat or significantly grimmer financial situation than only a couple of months ago. All of a sudden it has become a real struggle to pay the rent and the bills. It feels as if the viral epidemic is covering a silent wave of a much deadlier plague. It feels as if our disciplined and poised fight against the health threats of COVID-19 is at the same time a certain rush over a cliff that we were ignored. So before we can know whether the war has been won, we should first understand which war we are thinking of and whether the big one has even yet started.