Turkey says coronavirus-free as Saudi Arabia suspends travel

(Updates on paragraph 11)

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday no coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the country so far as Saudi Arabia announced it is suspending travel to a number of countries including Turkey over fears of COVID-19.

The Turkish Health Ministry and the rest of the government have taken all measures to prevent coronavirus from entering Turkey, state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Koca as saying Monday.

“If the coronavirus reaches Turkey, it will probably be carried by passengers travelling from abroad. Cases may be seen [eventually] in Turkey, but it is in our hands to prevent its spread,” Koca said.

The health minister also urged Turkish citizens, especially those returning from trips abroad, to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia confirmed on Monday that it is suspending travel for both citizens and residents due to the coronavirus outbreak, including Turkey, France, Germany, and Spain, Al-Arabiya reported.

Turkey is the only country on Saudi’s travel ban list where officials have confirmed no cases of COVID-19. Five of Turkey’s eight neighbours have confirmed cases of the deadly virus, including Iran, where as of Monday 236 people died from the respiratory illness.

The decision by Riyadh arrives a day after the Kingdom's residents and citizens were told they can no longer travel to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Italy, and South Korea. 

Turkish media reported on Monday that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not shake hands with government officials before boarding a plane for Brussels for meetings with EU and NATO leaders.

The president chose instead to place his hand on his chest, a gesture he repeated with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the end of their joint press conference. 

Following reports of deaths among Iranian politicians, French Culture Minister Franck Riester on Monday was announced to have tested positive for the virus.

The Istanbul Stock Exchange saw a sharp decline of 5.54 percent on Monday, in line with the fall in global markets last week following fears over the epidemic, while Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced the expansion of Italy's restricted zone from the north to cover the whole country.