Erdoğan announces weekday, weekend lockdown as infections soar above 30,000

(Updated with reactions from the TTB, social media)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday announced new weekday curfews and full lockdowns over weekends in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a record high number of cases and deaths in recent weeks.

According to the new measures, citizens will not be allowed to leave their home between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays, and over the entire weekend, extending from 9 p.m. on Fridays to 5 a.m. on Mondays, state-run Anadolu news agency cited him as saying.

The measures arrive as the country is faced with an alarming surge of cases that is exhausting the Turkish health system. Ankara last week resumed reporting all positive coronavirus tests, including asymptomatic patients, pushing the number of daily cases to above 30,000, making Turkey one of the worst-hit countries in Europe.

Meanwhile, the daily death toll also continues to increase, registering 188 on Sunday, which brought the death total toll to 13,746.

The measures, set to go into effect on Tuesday, will not apply to certain sectors, including supply chain and production, he added.

Those 65 and older will only be permitted out weekdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m, while the under 20 will only be allowed to leave their homes on weekdays between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., according to the new measures.

Those above the age of 65 and below 20 will also not be allowed to use public transportation, he said, while noting that funerals and weddings will not exceed 30 people.

"Public baths (hamams), saunas, massage parlours, swimming pools and amusement parts will suspend their operations,’’ Erdoğan said. 

Details of the news restrictions will be provided in a notice issued by the Interior Ministry on Tuesday, he said, stressing that all decisions were based on scientific observation.

Erdoğan also urged citizens to quit smoking cigarettes and shisha during the pandemic.

"I have no business with cigarettes or shisha,’’ he said. "I want this only for the health of my nation. I want this for the love of my nation.’’

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB), which has long been critical of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Monday said the latest restrictions still fell short of the necessary steps to stem the outbreak.

It is a serious problem that the measures have once again failed to call for a halt in production, Evrensel newspaper cited TTB head Şebnem Korur Fincancı as saying.

“This is unacceptable. It is incomprehensible that shopping centres are being kept open. There is no scientific explanation for all this,’’ she said. 

“The continuation of production under these conditions is the sacrifice of labourers and human beings to the pandemic. These are steps taken for economic reasons,’’ the TTB head added. 

Meanwhile, Turkish Twitter erupted with reactions to the new restrictions.

“It is as though we are not fighting the pandemic, but zombies that are affected by sunlight. There is no other logical explanation for these measures,’’ one Twitter user said.

Another user said the virus seems to fall asleep after 5 a.m. and wake up after 9 p.m.

“This virus is essentially a nerdy teenager that never sleeps on weekends and snoozes through working hours,’’ the user said.

Former main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) lawmaker Eren Erdem asked why there was no announcement on assistance for business owners affected by the pandemic or postponement of tax payments. 

“Was there any announcement on rental payments or grant assistance?’’ he asked.

Journalist Rengin Aslan took to Twitter to criticise Erdoğan’s suggestion for people to open their windows.

 “Who should we be sending our heating bills to in this case?’’ Aslan asked.