Turkey to ease daytime lockdown measures from May 17 but curfews to stay

Turkey will start easing its strict coronavirus lockdown on May 17 by allowing movement during the day while keeping overnight and weekend curfews in place. Experts have said that it's too early for the controlled normalization process since the number of cases hasn't fallen down below 2,000.

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkey will start easing its strict coronavirus lockdown on May 17 by allowing movement during the day while keeping overnight and weekend curfews in place, the Interior Ministry said in a directive on May 16.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on May 14 Turkey would gradually ease out of a full lockdown imposed 2-1/2 weeks ago, and lift restrictions more significantly in June as part of the controlled normalization process. 

Turkish authorities tightened coronavirus measures after the number of daily COVID-19 cases soared above 60,000 in April, one of the highest rates globally, and deaths reached nearly 400 a day.

Until June 1, people will have to remain at home between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. during weekdays and from Friday evening until Monday morning, aside from meeting basic shopping needs, the ministry directive said.

It said inter-city travel will be allowed outside of curfew hours, while restaurants and cafes will be limited to takeaway services. Shopping malls will open on weekdays but facilities such as sports clubs and cinemas will remain shut, it added.

While Turkey has imposed curbs on people's movements and activities throughout the pandemic, Erdoğan has sought to maintain economic production by keeping factories open even during the full lockdown.

The surge in cases has threatened to hit its lucrative summer tourism season, and has already prompted the switch of the Champions League final from Istanbul to Portugal, while Formula One called off the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix on May 14.

The number of daily new cases has fallen to 11,000, sharply down from last month but still above the target of 5,000 Erdoğan set at the start of the lockdown. Around 10.8 million people have been fully vaccinated, or 13% of the population, with 14.9 million having received only a first dose.

Cases should decrease below 2,000

Experts, meanwhile, said that it's too early to enter controlled normalization since the number of cases is still above 2,000. They also note that Turkey would still be categorized as a high-risk country even if the cases decrease to 5,000. 

Prof. Sarp Üner from the Association of Public Health Specialists (HASUDER) said that the decrease in the number of cases from 60,000 to 11,000 stems from the lack of sufficient testing. 

"The fact that sufficient testing is not carried out shows that the pandemic is not under control," Üner told Duvar, while criticizing Turkey's vaccination pace. 

"The population that hasn't been vaccinated continues to pose risks," he said. 

Istanbul Medical Chamber General Secretary Prof. Osman Küçükosmanoğlu criticized the full lockdown since millions continued to work and vaccinations remained little. 

"We are worried that the numbers will increase again after the lockdown," he said. 

Antalya Medical Chamber head Nursel Şahin had a warning for touristic districts. 

"We didn't do sufficient testing and vaccinations. We are worried that an uncontrolled easing will be applied in touristic regions. We shouldn't allow any tourists to enter Turkey without PCR tests. We should halt flights to India," Şahin told Duvar, adding that Turkey is being made open to mutated viruses over economic concerns.

"Touristic districts may become centers of mutated viruses," she added.