Turkey going through period of 'mass contagion' of COVID-19, says Health Minister

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Nov. 18 that Turkey is now going through a period of "mass contagion" of COVID-19. "Without losing anything, the virus has gone into the mass contagion period...It seems we must put our lives under tight discipline for some time," he said.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district. (Reuters)

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkey's government urged "tight discipline" on Nov. 18 as the country prepared for new weekend curfews, online schooling and limits on restaurants and cafes that are to begin on Nov. 20 evening and last through year-end to contain the pandemic.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the tighter restrictions on Nov. 17 in response to a coronavirus surge that has brought reported daily cases and deaths to levels last seen in late April, just after the initial peak.

"Without losing anything, the virus has gone into the mass contagion period," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters in parliament. "It seems we must put our lives under tight discipline for some time," he said, adding that if citizens fail to comply with the new measures, more restrictions might be on the agenda. 

Turkey on Nov. 18 registered 4,215 more COVID-19 "patients," taking the total tally to 425,628. The death toll rose by 116 to hit 11,820. Opposition lawmakers and medical groups have been for months now criticizing the government -- which since July has not reported confirmed asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 -- for masking the true scale of the outbreak.

In a notice, the Interior Ministry said on Nov. 18 restaurants, cafes, hairdressers and shopping malls will only operate from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. locally. For dining, only takeaway and delivery services will be allowed.

Under the new curbs, which will take effect from 8 p.m. on Nov. 20, cinemas will be closed and schools will provide online education for the rest of the year.

A partial weekend lockdown will be imposed nationwide until further notice, the ministry said, adding these would not disrupt supply and production chains.

Meral Akşener, leader of the opposition İYİ (Good) Party, said the new measures were insufficient. "I am calling to the ruling party from here: the pandemic looks out of control. The picture in Istanbul is a total catastrophe," she said.

She urged a 14-day nationwide lockdown and reiterated a call by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu who said virus deaths in the city alone outstrip reported nationwide figures. Istanbul reported 9,872 pandemic-related deaths as of Nov. 14 compared to the national government's reported 11,418, she said.

"There is something off with this because there is no transparency, no honesty," Akşener told her party's lawmakers in parliament.