Istanbul learns to live behind closed doors - VOA

The battle to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Istanbul is an indicator for the country’s ability to cope with the outbreak, Voice of America (VOA) said on Wednesday

With a population of more than 16 million people, Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and at the centre of the country’s efforts to contain the virus, as the authorities have ramped up restrictions. 

Turkey has halted incoming flights from dozens of countries and closed a wide range of non-essential businesses and venues, schools have been closed, prayers at mosques have been suspended, and a curfew on elderly and vulnerable citizens was announced over the weekend, though it has refrained from enforcing a full lockdown.

"With its culture of street restaurants, Istanbul is a city that loves to live outside. Now, the streets are silent and empty, devoid of bustling tables of customers enjoying the city's famed culinary pleasures," said VOA.

The use of Istanbul’s public transportation system has dropped by 68 percent in two weeks. Istanbul municipal authorities have removed benches to discourage people from sitting and chatting, and the police have been telling people at the seafront to go home. 

Every night across Istanbul people cheer and whistle from their balconies or windows in support of the country's medical workers.  

Despite the strict measures, some Istanbul residents have criticised the response to the outbreak, said VOA.

“They hid the virus. My nephew works at a hospital. There are six or seven virus victims at a time, when they kept saying that there is no virus. Who are they kidding?” a retired woman who declined to give her name told VOA. “How come there isn't? Why did they deny this? Why didn't they take precautions, like stopping the planes coming to Istanbul?”

Turkey only reported its first coronavirus patient on March 11, but cases and deaths have rapidly risen since then. The Turkish health minister confirmed on Tuesday seven more deaths due to the coronavirus and announced 343 new cases, raising the total number of cases in the country to 1,872.

Istanbul's many private hospitals are being put on the front line to treat coronavirus patients.  

“Medical residents have been drafted into active duty,” analyst Atilla Yeşilada of Global Source Partners told VOA. "The administration is trying to soothe public concerns about a health crisis by assurances that staff, facilities, medicine and test kits are adequate for even dire scenarios." 

However, there is growing criticism about exhaustion, poor safety standards, a lack of masks, gloves, and other vital equipment for hospital staff, said Yeşilada.

Istanbul's mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the opposition Republican People’s Party, has called on the city to stay strong. 

“Together, we will get through it. Our country, our city, can be an example for the world on how to keep the coronavirus cases and fatalities low,” said İmamoğlu at a recent press conference. “My fellow citizens of Istanbul, we do have difficult days ahead of us, but everything will be beautiful. Don't lose hope.”