Erdoğan announces new curfew alongside normalisation steps

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced  on Monday a new four-day curfew effective Saturday in a televised speech following a cabinet meeting, detailing some of Turkey’s steps to ease restrictions put in place to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

The curfew will be in place between May 16 -19, with green grocers, butchers, bakeries, dessert shops and markets allowed to open for in-store purchases and deliveries between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on the two weekdays.

Those 65 and over will be allowed to go out between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, and young people will be allowed on May 20 -22 depending on their age bracket, the president said.

Children up to the age of 14 will be allowed to go outside on Wednesday, and young people between ages of 15 to 20 will be allowed outings on Friday, between the hours of 11:00 and 15:00, similar to the leave granted to senior citizens on Sunday following weeks of strict curfew.

Following the lifting of an intercity travel ban on seven out of the 31 biggest provinces in the country last week, the ban will be lifted for nine more provinces (Adana, Diyarbakır, Mardin, Trabzon, Ordu, Denizli, Kahramanmaraş, Şanlıurfa and Tekirdağ) as decided in the cabinet meeting.

Turkey’s state-owned tea production company Çaykur has increased the base price for raw tea purchases, Erdoğan announced, and seasonal workers who reside outside of tea producing provinces will be allowed special permits to travel for the harvest.

Hairdressers and barbers, as well as shops that sell clothing, shoes and accessories will be allowed to open starting today, provided they comply with social distancing rules and use face masks.

The nation-wide aid campaign Erdoğan had announced on April 4 has amassed more than two billion liras ($ 282.75 million) in donations, and will continue until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, observed on May 23 in Turkey, he said.

Some five million senior citizens and those with chronic illnesses have been provided with at-home support, ranging from grocery deliveries to payments of pensions, by Vefa Social Support Units, which are made up of some 146,000 volunteers and civil servants including teachers, members of security forces and imams, Erdoğan said.

In a rare recognition of positive contributions of the opposition, Erdoğan said a total of 1,119 municipalities, including those ran by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) “as well as other parties,” an apparent reference to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), joined forces with the Vefa units, “displaying exemplary solidarity at this time of hardship.”

“In the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest tragedies in Western countries happened in elder care homes,” Erdoğan said, whereas in Turkey more than 27,000 senior citizens were “provided with every care” in public care homes, more than 805,000 citizens over the age of 65 were given a poverty stipend of 672 liras ($95), and the lowest pension was increased to 1,500 liras ($ 212).

Social security payments that were postponed for six months as part of Turkey’s pandemic measures have reached 40 billion liras ($ 5.65 billion), the president announced.

“We continue our fight against this virus together as 83 million people,” Erdoğan said. “Our number of new cases, deaths, ICU patients, and intubated patients continue to decrease as the number of recoveries and total tests conducted multiply.”

Such developments allow for Turkey to gradually ease restrictions and head towards normality, the president continued, but “our country and the whole world has entered a new phase when we have to live our lives in complicity with certain rules,” like face masks, social distancing and extreme hygiene.

“As such, our citizens should not think of normalisation steps as a return to before March 10. There are many examples, both in our country and throughout the world, that the slightest complacency results in grand calamities,” he said.

Quarantines were put in place in 412 residential areas due to the pandemic, 112 of which continue still.

“We aim to put our country in a more advantageous situation in the global system that will see a post-pandemic reconstruction,” Erdoğan said, through the current climate when “the pandemic has superceded the health aspect and opened the gates for the search for a restructuring at the global level.”

A ceremony “to see the light at the end of the tunnel” in the metro line to the new Istanbul airport was held on Sunday. The line, which will serve some of the newly-constructed large-scale hospitals announced as part of COVID-19 measures, will become partially operational in April 2021, and fully functional by no later than September 2021, according to Erdoğan.

The president announced plans to put into service the hospitals under construction on site of Istanbul’s now-defunct Atatürk Airport and a military airport in Sancaktepe by the end of May, and an inauguration ceremony that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend via video conference for a city hospital in the megacity’s conservative Başakşehir district on May 21.

Erdoğan said, “We have better seen in this period the importance of our General Health Insurance system,” which replaced Turkey’s universal healthcare system with one with several tiers of coverage, putting in place increased payments for higher-income taxpayers and state coverage of payments for the lowest income group.

“Many countries have started to closely observe this system where even those with no social security coverage can join by paying 88 liras ($ 13) a month, an amount anybody can afford,” Erdoğan said.

Turkey’s successful handling of the pandemic crisis has sparked interest from all, including scientists, Erdoğan continued. “God willing, this positive picture will contribute to our country becoming a leading brand in healthcare services in the future.”

According to the president, Turkey has delivered 450 million face masks to the population to date, and re-authorised the sale of face masks with a price cap of 1 lira ($ 0.14).

The Commerce and Industry Ministry, Turkish Standards Institute, the country’s top science body TÜBİTAK, and manufacturers have come together to determine new standards for reusable non-medical cloth masks. Sales for cloth masks will be allowed with a price cap, to be determined later, Erdoğan said.

Pensions, payments and unemployment benefits will be paid early, starting in mid-May to be completed before the Muslim holiday Eid on May 23.

As part of the first two phases of pandemic social support, some 4.4 citizens have already received a one-time payment of 1,000 liras ($ 140), and the third phase targeting the recently unemployed has provided the same payment for some 900,000 more citizens, Erdoğan said. More than 500,000 liras ($70,700) have been transferred to charities for Ramadan.

The first turbine of the Ilısu Dam, a hydroelectric plant that has seen large-scale protests as it would result in the destruction of the 12,000-year-old ancient city of Hasankeyf, will become operational on May 19, he said.

Erdoğan praised his coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for standing up for the nation in its time of need, and condemned “the circles who are disturbed by Turkey never faltering in the pursuit of its goals despite all the attacks against it.”

Turkey will continue its fight against terrorism, foreign enemies including the “evil powers ranging from Armenian and Greek lobbies to centres of animosity originating in the Gulf,” as well as “those utilising foreign financial institutions … to put shackles on us.”

“Our method to settle scores is justice, and place to do so is the ballot box,” Erdoğan said, stating an intention to “make Turkey one of the top 10 developed countries in the world, with help from Allah and support from our nation.”

Pro-government media personality Sevda Noyan said last Friday that her family could “take out 50 people” in support of Erdoğan the event of coup attempt against him. Her remarks have been widely condemned for encouraging hatred and violence as well as legitimizing extra judicial execution.