Turkey goes into first full lockdown as third-wave Covid cases surge

People are shopping in the Egyptian bazaar and around Eminonu before a full lockdown from Thursday evening through May 17 to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey on April 29, 2021.

Ezra Bilgin | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turkey will be completely in lockdown for three weeks starting Thursday as a third wave of coronavirus cases hit the country’s health system.

The 82-million country had by then managed to avoid a full lockdown and impose a series of partial restrictions that brought the average daily caseload to 6,000 by February. However, a loosening of these restrictions in March sparked a new wave of infections that gave Turkey the highest daily case rate in Europe, reaching more than 60,000 registered cases per day by the end of April.

The government is asking all businesses to shut down, unless the Home Office grants an exception, to ban intercity travel without a permit, and to relocate all schooling online. Supermarkets can remain open except on Sundays.

Turkey has reported more than 4.7 million cases of the virus and over 39,000 deaths since the pandemic began. That’s a relatively low 0.8% death rate, which official figures say is due to the country’s strong health system.

However, as the new surge continues to spread, residents fear the economic impact of the lockdown on a population already affected by high inflation, rising unemployment and a dramatically weakened currency.

The lockdown will “destroy the people who want to make money for their loved ones as the economy was badly hit even before the corona,” Eyal, an Istanbul tourist who works in the tourism industry, told CNBC.

“As a person in the tourism sector, we also have problems with the government’s poorly managed corona situation as after (the announcement of the lockdown) the few reservations we had were canceled,” Eyal said, withholding his last name for fear of government reprisals .

The Turkish Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tourism accounts for 7.7% of Turkish employment. Record sales were achieved in tourism in 2019 before falling a whopping 72% in the first eleven months of 2020, Reuters reported in November.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that without stricter restrictions and slowed down infection rates, a “high price” would be paid for tourism, education and trade. He wants to reduce the daily infections to 5,000. According to the Johns Hopkins University, the daily recorded cases as of Wednesday were 40,444.

“More and more unemployed”

The bus stops in Istanbul were full of travelers trying to get out of the city before the lockdown. Many Turks fear that this could only make the situation worse.

“This curfew might be the only solution to lessen the new cases, but almost all of the people who have the money didn’t want to stay in Istanbul,” he said, describing an exodus to other parts of the country that he fears Increase the new falls instead of decreasing them. “

Erdogan has also come under fire for hosting overcrowded events, like a massive gathering for his political party’s congress in late March, which packed thousands of people into a 10,400-capacity sports complex to obey the socially distant rules to withdraw from Turkey.

“I’m just as scared as I was watching the big indoor government gatherings for no reason,” Eyal said. “There’s a little bit of government support, almost nothing, and there are more and more unemployed and I’m worried about them.”

The Turkish Presidency Office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

“Bad Execution” and Prohibition of Alcohol

“It’s not the lockdown itself that is frustrating, but the poor execution,” a European expat living in Istanbul told CNBC anonymously over concerns about government reprisals.

“Whenever the number of cases seems to be going down, the restrictions are being lifted prematurely, which happened not so long ago. The number of cases ended up being below 5,000 and all bars and restaurants were up and running, which is the biggest increase we’ve had . ” ,” he said.

Another government policy has rubbed off many Turks and residents: a ban on alcohol sales from April 29th to May 17th.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – APRIL 29: People are waiting in a queue in the Cevizlibag district to board metro buses and trams to return their homes before the full lockdown Thursday evening through May 17 to stop the spread of coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey on May 29 Curb April, 2021 (Photo by Isa Terli / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“Probably the furthest thing is the ban on alcohol,” said the expat resident, adding, “This has caused outrage among secular Turks, saying that the government has no right to deal with any person and what they drink at home , too busy. “”

Earlier this week, #alkolumedokunma – meaning “don’t touch my alcohol” – was the most popular hashtag on Turkish Twitter as secular politicians criticized the government’s move to impose religious values ​​on the country’s people.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The lockdown “comes at a bad time for Turkey,” said Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit. Inflation in Turkey is 15%, youth unemployment is 25% and the Turkish lira has hit record lows against the dollar in recent months.

“The new measures will further reduce confidence and increase uncertainty, which will weigh on economic growth this year,” said Demarais.

Still, she noted, “There is light at the end of the tunnel on the coronavirus front: Turkey’s vaccination program is proceeding rapidly and the government should be able to lift restrictions later this year, possibly before the crucial summer season for tourism. “

The EIU estimates that Turkey vaccinated the majority of its adult population in the first half of 2022, which would place it in the same category as Canada, Australia or South Korea.

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