Turkey raises number of confirmed coronavirus cases to six - live blog

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev agreed on Saturday to suspend air and land travel between the two countries, while Ankara reached an agreement with neighbouring Georgia to temporarily close a border crossing amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Ankara’s agreement with Azerbaijan excludes cargo, while the deal between Turkey and Georgia to temporarily close the Sarp border crossing for passengers does not place restrictions on freight transportation, news site T24 said.

Turkish authorities earlier on Saturday quarantined 57 Turkish passengers on an incoming flight from Baghdad to Istanbul, after diverting the plane to land in Ankara, where Turkey handles coronavirus isolations.

The flight arrived in Turkey on Friday night, 13 days after Turkey suspended air travel to and from its southern neighbour as part of measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Fifty seven Turkish passengers were moved to a quarantine hospital in Ankara.

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

All cases to date have been in contact with each other, and were discovered during isolation procedures for the first patient who was diagnosed last week.

Turkey’s measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus includes a temporary shut-down of schools, barring fans from sporting events and urging citizens returning from abroad to self-isolate.

Several state bodies have announced paid leave for public workers, while mosques remain open for worship.

Officials also announced on Saturday reduced hours in shopping malls throughout the country.

02:40 - Turkey raises number of confirmed coronavirus cases to six

Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca announced late on Saturday that a Turkish pilgrim who returned from Mecca last week tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“We are concerned for new cases. Please do not accept visitors,” the minister tweeted. “If you recently returned from pilgrimage we insistently ask that you comply with the 14 day rule.”


The sixth confirmed case is unrelated to the first five, which had reportedly all been in contact with each other.


22:10 - NGOs call for preventative measures against COVID-19 in Turkish prisons

A total of nine civil society organisations called for preventative measures against the spread of the deadly coronavirus in Turkey’s prisons, Artı Gerçek news site reported. 

The organisations, including the Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST), released a joint statement, calling for the provision hygiene products, vitamins and healthy food, as well to disinfection of prisons, among other measures.

The organisations also said any measures taken should be implemented in a way that does not violate the rights of inmates.

There are more than 270,000 prisoners in Turkey, which has a population of 80 million with frequent reports of violations regarding inmates’ access to healthcare.

 21:50 - Turkish Health Minister warns against coronavirus scam

Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca took to Twitter to warn against a coronavirus scam. 

''The Health Ministry plans coronavirus risk scanning and does not come knocking on your door unannounced,’’ Koca said.

''If nobody has called you from SABİM-184, do not allow people into your house who claim to have arrived for testing. Let’s be cautious against ill-intentioned individuals!’’ Koca added. 

21:45 - Turkish pensioners may receive payment at home, says SGK

The Turkish Social Security Administration (SGK) has announced that it will provide pension payments to seniors in their home as part of effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, news site T24 reported.

The at home payments will be made at the request of pensioners, SGK said. The administration has also moved additional services online, allowing for banking changes to be made via the e-Devlet (e-State) website, it said. 

20:30- Turkey’s shopping centres to reduce hours

Shopping centres throughout Turkey will reduce their hours in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, TRT news reported.

The new hours of service for malls will be 12- 8 p.m., compared to the previous hours of 10 a.m.- 10 p.m., it said. 

Shopping centres are undergoing a rigorous disinfection process, Shopping Malls and Investors Association (AYD) Chairman Hüseyin Altaş said.

20:12 - Turkey gives deadline for return of nationals in European countries with flight bans

Turkish nationals in nine European countries, which Turkey has halted flights from may return to the country until March 18, the Foreign Ministry said. 

While the nationals are given the option to come to Turkey, it is better for them to remain where they are, news site T24 quoted Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yavuz Selim Kıran as saying.

Turkey announced late Friday that passengers coming from Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands would not be allowed into Turkey as of Saturday morning. 

20:10 - Return of thousands Turkish nationals from Saudi sparks concern

The return of some 21,000 Turkish nationals from minor pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia over the next few days has sparked fear over the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The President of Turkey’s religious affairs Directorate, Ali Erbaş,  said on Friday that tens of thousands of Turkish nationals will have returned home by the end of Sunday and have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.

''We are talking about 21,000 people here. Surely they will leave their homes,’’ journalist Çağlar Cilara said on Twitter.

18:55 - Divorce rate spikes across China amid coronavirus quarantines

China is seeing a spike in divorce cases following the COVID-19 outbreak, Euronews Turkish reported.

Divorce appointments at government offices are booked in the country, the original epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, for several weeks, it said. 

18:51 - Turkey’s ruling AKP postpones congress meetings

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK) has postponed its upcoming Central Executive Decision Committee (MKYK) and Central Executive Council (MYK) meetings, Diken news site reported. 

No new date has been announced for the congress meetings that were set to take place on Monday, it said. 

18:41 - Turkey, Georgia agree to close border gate

Turkey is closing its border with neighbouring Georgia in a bid to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus, TGRT news reported.

Turkey and Georgia have mutually agreed to temporarily shut down the Sarp border gate to traffic effective Sunday, it said.

18:31 - Turkish Defence Ministry takes measures to prevent coronavirus outbreak in military

Turkey’s Defence Ministry announced that it remained on alert over the deadly coronavirus and is implementing preventative measures against an outbreak to this end, 24 TV reported. 

The ministry is suspending the weekend passes of non-commissioned officers while implementing precautionary steps to boost the morale of the officers, it said.

Furthermore, no guests will be accepted for swearing in and graduation ceremonies, the ministry said.

18:15 - Northern Cyprus suspends religious gatherings

The president of the Religious Affairs Directorate of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has banned all congregational gatherings until April 1, Yeni Düzen newspaper reported.

No congregational worship, including Friday prayers, will be held at mosques pending a follow-up decision, Talip Atalay said. 

All activities inside and outside the mosque have been suspended until further notice, he said. 

There are a total of 26 people affected by COVID-19 on the divided island of Cyprus thus far. Earlier on Saturday TRNC announced all entries to the island except for TRNC citizens and residents with legal permission were banned until April 1.

17:40 -  Erdoğan aide warns Western media over use of Turkey photos in COVID-19 reports

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's top press aide Fahrettin Altun has penned a letter to U.S. and British media, warning against the use of photos from Turkey in reports on coronavirus, news site T24 reported.

The letter follows outrage in Ankara over the use of images related to Turkey and Istanbul being used by several Western media outlets, such as The New York Times, BBC and CNN International, with their news stories about the deadly virus.

"We advise you to avoid making similar mistakes," Altun wrote, stressing Turkey’s success in combatting an outbreak of COVID-19.

17:16 - Turkey, Azerbaijan agree to suspend air, land travel

The presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey have agreed to halt air and land travel between the countries in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, news site Duvar reported.

The agreement between the two countries excludes cargo, Duvar said. 

Turkey has five confirmed cases of coronavirus to date while Azerbaijan has recorded 19 cases to date so far with one death from COVID-19 earlier this week.

17:12 - Two journalists detained over coronavirus report

Turkish police detained two journalists working for Haberimizvar news site over a report on the deadly coronavirus, Evrensel newspaper reported. 

The news site’s editor-in-chief  İdris Özyol and news coordinator Ebru Küçükaydın were detained on Saturday over a COVID-19 report and released hours later, it said.

The report in question has since been removed from the site, Evrensel said.

16: 45 - Municipality in southeast Turkey skips disinfection of church, Alevi house of worship

The state-appointed municipal leadership of Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır has rolled up its sleeves to disinfect mosques and Quran schools, omitting however the city’s famous church and only Alevi house of worship, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported. 

Mosques are being disinfected in an attempt to stop the possible spread of COVID-19, but officials have avoided the city’s Syriac Orthodox Meryem Ana Church, it quoted priest Yusuf Akbulut as saying.

Chairman of the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association of (PSAKD) Cafer Koluman also said there had been no disinfection of Diyarbakır’s Alevi house of worship, Mezopotamya reported. 

16:30- UAE to suspend flights to Turkey

The UAE is set to suspend flights Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria as of March 17 as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, pan-Arab outlet Al Arabiya reported.

The decision follows an evaluation of the global situation on COVID-19 by the country’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, it said. 

There are 85 confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus in the UAE.

15:50 - Public transportation use drops by 17 pct in Istanbul

The use of public transportation in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, home to some 17 million people, has dropped by 17 percent, marking a further decrease from 10 percent on Friday, Birgün newspaper reported.

"The use of metro, metrobus, bus and other public transportation has decreased by 17 percent. Our efforts in combating an outbreak risk have intensified. The most important precaution for citizens to follow is the warnings of official health institutions," Birgün quoted Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Spokesman Murat Ongun as saying.

15:40 - Turkish school’s disinfectant sales skyrocket after gov’t endorsement

The Atakum Vocational Technical High School in Turkey’s northern Samsun province has reported doubled sales for some 20 disinfectant products developed by students following an endorsement from a government official.

Turkish Education Minister Ziya Selçuk had endorsed Atakum in a tweet last week, putting the chemistry-focused school in the limelight. “Our vocational high school supports us with our coronavirus measures,” Selçuk said, while the ministry called it “a school like a factory.

“The school’s 1098 students and 155 faculty have manufactured and delivered 100 tonnes of disinfectant products since the emergence of COVID-19, and have orders waiting from six provinces throughout Turkey.

14:57- Turkish police receive increased authority to guide coronavirus containment

Turkey’s Interior Ministry has granted Turkish police the authority to warn and direct to health units Turkish nationals arriving from countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases, T24 news site reported.

The ministry sent a notice to the governor’s office of all the country’s 81 provinces, stating police had the authority to direct Turkish nationals from European countries which have high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, sending them for testing and facilitating their 14-day self-isolation, it said. 

14:05 - Turkey’s Pegasus announces one-way flights to restricted countries
Turkish budget carrier Pegasus on Saturday announced one-way flights to the nine European countries Turkey suspended flights to.

Pegasus will fly from Turkey to Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands on March 14 and 15, with only residents and citizens of these countries allowed to board. The planes will return to Turkey with no passengers.

The restriction was put in place as part of Turkey’s efforts against the COVID-19 coronavirus on Friday, and flights will remain suspended until April 17.

12:50 - Erdoğan, Macron, Merkel to hold video call instead of summit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have decided to cancel a summit planned for March 17 in Istanbul, and hold a video call instead, said state-run Anadolu news agency.

The decision to switch to video call is part of measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has already spread to senior politicians in several European countries including France, Spain, Italy, and Britain.

The three leaders will discuss developments in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib, the renewed refugee crisis between Turkey and the EU, and the country’s relationship with the bloc in general.

12:40 - Coronavirus council member says more than 4,000 people tested in Turkey

Turkey has tested more than 4,000 people for COVID-19, Coronavirus Science Council Member Dr Alpay Azap told Hürriyet newspaper on Saturday. 

“This number may seem low in comparison to the rest of the world, but according to suspect cases, it is sufficient,” Azap said.

Turkey started to produce primers for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique used to detect the coronavirus a month ago, when the spread of the virus accelerated, Azap said. “Until last week, we were selling the primers to other countries as there were no cases in Turkey.”

Testing is free in Turkey, but limited to persons who have recently travelled abroad, came into contact with a confirmed case, or started to show symptoms. The country’s capacity to produce the tests is currently at 2,000 primers per week, with authorities working to increase that number.

12:20 - Turkey issues paid leave for at-risk public servants

A presidential decree has granted 12-day paid leave to Turkish public servants who are older than 60, pregnant or disabled. Women who are breastfeeding and workers with chronic illnesses are also eligible for the leave.

The paid leave will begin on Monday, March 16, as part of the country’s efforts against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The decree also encouraged public bodies to continue running services with minimum staff, and women who have young children to use their vacation days.

11:45 - Coronavirus fears leave shelves empty - VOA

Turkish shoppers are grappling with a shortage of basic supplies and price hikes on certain items such as face masks and hand sanitisers since Turkey’s first coronavirus cases were confirmed, reported Voice of America.

Angry customers have been complaining of opportunism among vendors and were hoping that the government would intervene to regulate prices and help stores replenish their inventories.

Manufacturer's prices have soared on many products, according to Turkish pharmacists, including traditional colognes that are widely used as an antiseptic because of their high alcohol content.

10:50 - Northern Cyprus closes all borders over coronavirus

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has temporarily banned all travel to and from the northern third of the Mediterranean island it controls.

The ban went into effect on Saturday morning and will remain in place until April 1. The only people to be allowed to enter will be Turkish Cypriot citizens, students in northern Cypriot universities and immigrants who hold residency permits.

Citizens of Turkey are not exempt from the ban, according to the Turkish Cypriot administration, which had already suspended flights from 23 countries following the fifth confirmed case of COVID-19 on the island among groups of British and German tourists.