Turkey confirms fifth coronavirus case, suspends flights to 9 European countries

(Updates with new information in paragraphs 1-2)

Turkey announced its fifth case of the coronavirus on Friday, raising concerns about the spread of the illness through the population of more than 80 million.

All new cases were people close to the first man who was diagnosed earlier this week, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

“We are taking the necessary measures to confine the possible spread of the virus to within these limits,” Koca said on Twitter.

Turkey stepped up measures to arrest the spread of the illness on Thursday, temporarily shutting schools and universities, barring fans from sports events and telling citizens who have travelled abroad to self-isolate.

The government has barred visitors from the nation’s parliament in Ankara until the end of the month, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.

Concerns over the economic impact of the virus pushed the lira to its lowest level since September 2018 in trading yesterday. The currency was little changed at 6.31 per dollar as of 10:12 a.m. local time on Friday.

23:50 – Iraq's Kurdistan region announces curfew over coronavirus

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq on Friday has announced a two-day curfew in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, two major cities of the region, following the eighth death from the COVID-19 coronavirus in the country.

KRG also suspended all public meetings, including Friday prayers in mosques. The government will be disinfecting public spaces and conducting medical checks during the curfew.

23:45 – Turkey's mosques to remain open for prayers

Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) on Friday announced a series of measures to minimise time spent in crowded mosques to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The mosques will remain open for prayers, but Diyanet has urged practicing Muslims who are immunocompromised or otherwise in high-risk groups for the virus to avoid crowds and practice Friday prayers at home instead.

The directorate also announced that it has provided information to some 21,000 pilgrims currently visiting Mecca, who will be returning to Turkey on March 15, on how to avoid the virus and what to do once they are back.

22:15 – Izmir, Ankara announce paid leave for municipal workers with young children

Turkish capital Ankara’s popular opposition mayor Mansur Yavaş announced paid leave for women municipal workers who have children under the age of 12.

“Due to school closures, mothers working in our municipality, its affiliated bodies and joint ventures who have children younger than 12 will be considered on paid leave,” Yavaş tweeted.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s third largest city Izmir’s Mayor Tunç Soyer announced that “parents with children younger than 12” will be eligible for administrative leave as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, after Yavaş was criticised for not including fathers.

19:45 – Turkish prisons to not admit persons showing symptoms of respiratory infection

New arrivals to Turkey’s prisons will be screened for respiratory infections, and prisoners showing symptoms for any infection will not be admitted, Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül announced on Friday.

The prisoners will be admitted after they receive treatment at medical facilities, and spend their first 14 days isolated from the general prison population, the minister said.

All prison visits have been suspended for the coming two weeks, Gül said. Prosecutors will be allowed to grant exemptions for necessary cases.
Non-urgent court hearings will be postponed where possible, the minister said.

19:20 – Turkey confirms three more coronavirus cases

Three more people have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus in Turkey, raising the country’s official confirmed cases to five, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters on Friday.

The three patients were also among the people isolated upon suspicion following the first diagnosed case, Koca said, repeating the ministry’s decision to not announce where the patients were diagnosed.

Two of the five patients have started to experience respiratory problems.

The minister announced measures to minimise the public’s need to visit hospitals for other health issues, including an automatic prescription renewal service for the elderly and limited patient visits.

19:15 – Turkey suspends flights to nine European countries

As part of the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Turkey has suspended all flights to Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands until April 17, Turkish Transportation Minister Mehmet Cahit Turan announced on Friday in a joint press conference with ministers of health and justice.

Turkey had suspended flights to and from China, Iran, Iraq, Italy and South Korea in February due to the pandemic.
All land travel to and from Iran has also been suspended, the minister said.

17:50 – Northern Cyprus announces fifth confirmed coronavirus case

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on Friday confirmed the fifth case of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the northern third of the island it controls, news channel 24TV reported.

Ali Pilli, health minister for the breakaway state, said the virus was detected among a group of British tourists, adding to the two German nationals diagnosed on Thursday.

The Turkish Cypriot administration has suspended flights from 23 countries, allowing only inbound flights from Turkey and Britain on condition passengers undergo a 14-day period of quarantine.

Turkish Cypriot authorities on Thursday shut two of the nine border gates with the Republic of Cyprus, which had previously shut four gates.

16:55 – Turkey expands testing to include sick travellers

Turkey expanded its coronavirus testing after its first case was diagnosed on Wednesday, but only to those who have travelled abroad and are showing symptoms, said a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Committee.

The testing will be widened from people who had visited high-risk countries to include all those who are ill and reached Turkey over the past 14 days, Milliyet newspaper said, citing the official, Prof. Dr. Tevfik Özsü.

16:45 – Türk Telekom gifts 3 GB data for distance learning

The Turkish telecommunications firm announced on Friday it was providing 3 gigabytes of data to mobile phone contract customers to use the Education Information Network’s distance learning course while schools are shut, HaberTürk reported.

16:30 – Istanbul mayor greets actor John Malkovich with lemon cologne

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu made sure to highlight the hygienic welcome extended to Emmy award-winning actor and director John Malkovich when he visited the municipality on Friday.

“Even when our visitor is John Malkovich, we start our meeting in the Turkish way by offering lemon cologne,” İmamoğlu tweeted along with a picture of an aide sprinkling the cologne onto Malkovich’s gloved hands.

15:50 – Istanbul residents avoid public transport

The Istanbul municipality reported a drop of nearly 10 percent in the use of public transport since Monday, citing the risk posed by the coronavirus as the likely cause.

The number of people who used public transport fell from 7.4 million on March 9 to 6.7 million on March 12, according to data shared by municipality spokesman Murat Ongun.

14:40 – Ruling party cancels parliamentary party meeting

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has cancelled its parliamentary party meeting scheduled for March 18.

The party said it would not accept visitors to future parliamentary party meetings until further notice.

13:00 – Education Ministry to run distance learning broadcasts for students

Turkey will broadcast lessons throughout the day for students kept at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Education Minister Ziya Selçuk said.

“There will be broadcasts all day, the appropriate hour and class levels have been set for students,” the minister said.

Distance learning classes are due to start on March 23 after a one-week holiday announced on Thursday.

Detailed information on the distance learning programme will be uploaded to the Education Information Network website in the coming days.

11:45 – Turkey well stocked to see out COVID-19 outbreak – chamber of commerce

Turkey has sufficient supplies and production capacity to see out an outbreak of the coronavirus, Istanbul Chamber of Commerce President Şekib Avdagiç said at the chamber’s March meeting.

“We have absolutely no supply problem in our organised retail outlets or markets. We have sufficient stocks in our central depots,” Avdagiç said. “There’s no problem with production.”

11:30 – Turkey ramps up cologne, disinfectant production

Turkey is taking measures to ensure that it can produce enough lemon cologne and disinfectant to meet the heightened demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the country, Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank said.

The minister said the legal requirement for petrol to contain 3 percent ethanol alcohol had been suspended for the next three months to allow producers to instead make ethyl alcohol for the disinfectant products.