Covid: Turkey prepares for its first full lockdown

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The streets are crowded, the shopping centres busy and the traffic heavy.

Some flock to the main bus terminal to get out of Istanbul, while others are trying to stockpile alcohol amid news of a “booze ban”.

This is the mood as Turkey prepares later on Thursday to enter its first full lockdown of the pandemic, to curb a surge in infections and deaths.

WhatsApp groups are now dominated by messages about how life will be in the coming days.

This time last year, Turkey was seen as a success story for its early combative action and was even praised by the WHO.

One year on, it is among the countries worst affected by Covid, with the highest infection rate in Europe.

How Turkey’s infection rate soared
Ankara is still proud of its relatively low total number of deaths, at around 39,000, and authorities say the pandemic is still under control, thanks to the country’s strong healthcare system. But the spike in the number of cases is worrying.

Following a second period of restrictions starting last November, the number of daily cases fell to around 6,000 at one point in mid-February.

But as soon as the government started to ease the restrictions in March, a new wave struck Turkey.

The government then U-turned to re-impose restrictions at the beginning of April. However, that was not enough to curb the spread of infections.

At its height in April, there were more than 60,000 new cases a day and more than 300 deaths.

Why did it happen?
According to critics, the government lifted restrictions too early and the vaccination process has not been fast enough.

More than 22 million people have been vaccinated so far in this country of 82 million.

Turkey mainly uses the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, as well as lower numbers of Pfizer-Biontech.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said recently: “We have sped up vaccine diplomacy for the injections including Sinovac, Pfizer-Biontech and (Russia’s) Sputnik V”.

Another criticism was that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party organised packed congresses in March while many social gatherings, public protests were banned.

Scientists also say the new variants, especially the UK (Kent) strain, have accelerated the infection rate.

Whatever the reason for the new wave, Mr Erdogan has finally announced a full lockdown effective from 19:00 (16:00GMT) on Thursday until 17 May.


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