Health minister urges compliance with pandemic measures as Turkey braces for Eid in lockdown - live blog

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca in his daily update on Twitter urged citizens to follow measures put into effect to stem the spread of COVID-19 as the country counts down the hours to Eid ul-Fitr, marking the end of the month of Ramadan.

Turkey’s official coronavirus death toll has risen by 32 in the past 24 hours to 4,308, according to the Health Ministry’s latest data on Saturday.

“The number of new cases are following a trajectory in line with the number of tests conducted,” Koca said while highlighting the number of patients on respirators and intensive care continued to drop. 

Turkey recorded 1,186 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the first day of four-day nationwide curfew. 

The total number of coronavirus tests conducted since Friday evening stood at 40,178, raising the total number of tests administered during Turkey’s outbreak to more than 1.8 million. 

Turkey’s recovery counts since Friday rose by 1,491 to reach 117,602.

Earlier on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the public to be vigilant in order to avoid a new wave of COVID-19 infections as Turkey eases restrictions and extends a normalisation process after Eid al-Fitr.

“We will continue to be vigilant. The slightest neglect could lead to a resurrection of the epidemic,” Erdoğan told a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) via video link on Friday. 

Turkey will celebrate Eid al-Fitr under a curfew that began at midnight on Friday. 

Bakeries will remain open during the curfew. Markets, grocery stores, and butchers will be permitted to open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time on Saturday, but will be closed between May 24-26.

The first weekend curfew was declared on April 11 and was followed by others over subsequent weeks.  

“God willing, we won’t need such restrictions after Eid,” Erdoğan said on Monday, heralding Turkey’s plans to “mostly complete” a normalisation process in June.

Mosques deemed suitable by governorates and the Religious Affairs Directorate will partly resume worship on May 29, as part of Turkey’s normalisation steps. 

On May 11, Turkey opened barber shops, beauty salons, and shopping malls as COVID-19 deaths and infections have declined and recoveries have risen.

On Friday, court officials announced that one inmate in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison had died in the hospital he had been transferred to for treatment in early May.

The same announcement said there were a total of 82 inmates who tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in two of the ten prisons in the Silivri complex, where journalists and activists - including OdaTV and Yeni Yaşam reporters and philanthropist Osman Kavala - are currently under being held.

(All times Turkish time - GMT+3)

17:20 - Turkish markets price-gouging ahead of Eid ul-Fitr, says chamber union head

Markets in Turkey are price gouging ahead of the Eid ul-Fitr, Artı Gerçek news site reported, citing the chairman of the Union of Turkish Chambers of Architecture.

Markets are charging up to five times the production cost on food items, such as dried fruits, onions and chic peas have reached up to five times that cost, Şemsi Bayraktar said.

“It is not producers, but the middleman that are making a profit. Intermediaries should respect the hard work put in by producers,” Bayraktar said.

Markets are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time on Saturday, but will remain closed between May 24-26 as Turkey remains on lockdown during the Islamic holiday of Eid.

15:10 - More than 360 healthcare professionals test positive for COVID-19 in Turkish capital

A total of 362 healthcare professionals have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Turkish capital Ankara as of May 23, the Ankara chapter of the Turkish Medical Association announced on Saturday.

Seventy five out of the 362 were doctors in hospital clinics, 48 were nurses, and 44 were cleaning staff. Twenty five emergency care technicians and 24 family physicians were also infected by the virus.

14:50 - Turkish baklava makers record 50 pct reduction due to pandemic

Orders and sales of the traditional Turkish dessert baklava have dropped significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, Mehmet Yıldırım, head of Turkey’s Baklava and Dessert Producers Association, said.

Ramadan is usually the busiest time for baklava makers, but production fell by 50 percent in 2020, Yıldırım said.

The dessert was impacted by Turkey’s weekend curfews and other measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus, despite the Interior Ministry keeping dessert shops exempt from all lockdown orders.

13:25 - Turkey needs to ease COVID-19 restrictions gradually, scientists warn

Prominent Turkish scientists have warned that Turkey needs to ease its COVID-19 restrictions gradually as the country is set to extend a normalisation process in June.

Mehmet Ceyhan, an expert in paediatric infectious diseases at Hacettepe University and member of Turkey’s Coronavirus Scientific Committee, told Hürriyet it was necessary to find and treat asymptomatic cases and that the measures needed to be lifted gradually after Eid al-Fitr. “If you remove all measures all at once, you will not be able to determine where a problem occurred,” he said.

Tevfik Özlü, another member of the scientific committee, warned that the Turkish public should not expect everything to return to normal in June. “Sorry, we don't have a magic wand. Nothing will be the same until the vaccine has been discovered,” he said.

Serhat Ünlü, another member of the committee, said it was vital to maintain hygiene and social distancing measures and to keep wearing masks after Eid. "If the rules are not followed, the normalisation timetable may be disrupted or become unworkable," he said.

12:55 - High speed train services to resume on May 28

Turkey's Transportation Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu has announced that high speed train services will resume in compliance with social distancing measures on May 28.

There will be a total of 16 journeys on the Ankara-Istanbul, Ankara-Eskişehir, Ankara-Konya, and Konya-Istanbul routes every day.

Ticket sales will be handled by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) through their mobile app, website and in person at booths only, to allow integration with Health Ministry systems.

Passengers’ information will be checked against Health Ministry databases to confirm their COVID-19 status. Persons restricted from travel by health authorities and those who cannot obtain a code to mark them as safe for travel will not be allowed to board trains.

12:00 - Istanbul municipality scheme pays nearly 20 million utility bills for struggling families, mayor says

A municipality scheme has facilitated the payment of nearly 20 million utility bills for around 150,000 struggling families in the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said on Twitter.

İmamoğlu launched the online scheme on May 4, whereby Istanbul residents who are struggling financially can put up their water and natural gas bills, and others can volunteer to pay them on their behalf.

“I thank all our philanthropic citizens who show an example of solidarity as Eid approaches,” İmamoğlu said on Twitter. “Our social assistance and support activities also continue.”

11:50 - Bridges and highways to waive tolls over Eid al-Fitr

Bridges and highways under the responsibility of Turkey’s General Directorate of Highways will be free to use over Eid al-Fitr, according to a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette.

Fees will be waived from midnight on Friday and will be in force again from 7 a.m. on May 27 on public highways and bridges, including the major bridges in Istanbul.

The Başkentray train line in Turkey’s capital of Ankara, and the Marmaray train line in Istanbul will be free to use from midnight on Friday until midnight on May 26.