Like the rest of the world, Turkey is discussing when and how to ease the coronavirus restrictions. President Erdoğan gave a speech last Monday on the matter and, as usual, bashed the opposition and the media.
The coronavirus spread curve has indeed been flattened. The number of daily deaths has decreased, yet the number of new cases each day remains worrisome to health specialists. Many believe it is too early to lift the restrictions.
The government has allowed for the reopening of shopping malls and barbershops and beauty salons as of May 11. Hotels are also to be reopened by June to allow for local tourism. Schools will start running in June.
Meanwhile, these announcements, combined with the official statements claiming that the “COVID-19 spread is under control” have led to a loosening of attitudes amongst the people.
As a total lockdown on the weekends carries on, during weekdays, the streets of Istanbul are teeming with people. People over the age of 65 and under 20 are legally obliged to stay at home, but have now been granted 4 hours a week to leave the house. For the elderly in need of assistance, this does not provide much relief because they are allowed out only on Sundays, when every one else has to stay at home.
And where can one get out? In Istanbul, with a population of 16 million and dense housing, narrow streets are the only available option. The very few parks and coastlines in Istanbul remain closed. In Kadıköy, where the shore, parks, even banks are closed off with duck tape, streets get more and more crowded. Crowds flock to Istiklal Street and Taksim Square to get some fresh air. And few pay much attention to Health Minister Koca’s constant urging to respect social distancing measures.
While shopping malls are to be reopened in 10 days, the Parliament is to be shut down until June 2 and courts until June 15. This gives an idea of the government’s priorities.
Yet no one knows what the situation will look like once restrictions are lifted and shops and hotels opened.
Who will go to small shops? Who will risk a holiday in a hotel? Even if everything turns out fine, will such businesses be able to go on as usual?
Prof. Dr. Erol Taymaz, an economist, predicts that between 4.2 to 6.5 million more people will be unemployed. In an article he wrote for the YetkinReport, the most hard-hit sectors are restaurants and cafes, tourism, retail and manufacturing.
Other reports have put forward worse scenarios, predicting 10 million people might loose their jobs. Prof. Dr. Haluk Levent says that the hospitality sector will not return to the pre-coronavirus days. And small businesses, shop owners suffer tremedously.
Economists such as Levent warn of a “shock wave”. Since Turkey is one of the OECD countries that fares the worst in terms of income inequality, the gap will widen in the post-coronavirus days. This could happen abruptly.
An article co-written by three economists suggests that in Turkey, the income gap between the most affluent 20 percent and poorest 20 percent sections of the society will grow 8.6 fold.
Like the rest of the world, Turkey needs to revise its economic model; especially with regards to the way it distributes and uses its own resources. Life after the lifting of restrictions and the flattening of curves will not return to the pre-coronavirus times. Unfortunately, the regime seems to shun sound economic strategies only to cater to the elite.