Turkey makes face masks mandatory as COVID-19 cases spike

(updates with latest data on pandemic, announcement on schools) 

Turks must wear protective masks in all public areas throughout the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the government said on Tuesday in a circular to Turkey’s 81 provincial authorities.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday. The restrictions will be enforced in streets, parks, gardens, picnic areas, beaches, public transportation, workplaces, factories and all other areas where people congregate, Dünya newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Law enforcement agencies and the local authorities will be given all necessary powers to ensure the rule is followed, the government said.

Moreover, restaurants, cafes and recreational facilities have been banned from broadcasting music - live or pre-recorded - after midnight. The ban, which will be enforced by police, includes hotels.

Later on Tuesday, Turkish Education Minister Ziya Selçuk announced that in-class schooling for the new academic year would begin on Sept. 21, with preschoolers and first grade students alone.

Within three weeks from Sept. 21, the ministry will evaluate in-class education for other grades, T24 new site cited Selçuk as saying.

The minister also said the choice to send their children back to school or keep in the distance learning programme would be left to the discretion of parents. 

"Parental permission is important for us regarding in-class schooling,’’ Selçuk said. "Parents may present an excuse as to why they do not wish to send their children back to school.’’

The new regulations arrive as the country announced on Monday 1,703 new cases of COVID-19, the highest figure since May 15.

The number of infections in the country has more than doubled since June, when the government lifted many pandemic measures. 

The Health Ministry also reported 57 new deaths on Monday, up from around 20-25 daily fatalities in late May.

Earlier this month, Turkey imposed new pandemic restrictions across the country. The restrictions placed on outdoor weddings and other celebrations such as, include a time limit on ceremonies, a ban on dancing and serving food or beverages.

On Saturday, Erdoğan accused citizens of not following pandemic measures and urged compliance.

The latest measures coincide with efforts by Turkey to attract foreign tourists. The visitors provide hard currency earnings to support growth in its maligned economy and to finance a widening current account deficit. The country earned almost $35 billion from tourism last year, a record amount.