Erdoğan under growing pressure to impose full lockdown - FT

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing growing calls to urgently impose a full nationwide lockdown as Turkey struggles with one of the world’s fasting growing outbreaks of the coronavirus, said the Financial Times on Tuesday. 

“I don’t even want to think, God help us, about the way that this pandemic might spread because of those people who are still outside,” Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition mayor of Istanbul, told Turkey’s Fox News channel on Monday as he urged the government to impose sweeping restrictions in addition to existing measures. 

The mayor of Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, echoed İmamoğlu’s calls, and the Turkish Medical Association has also persistently urged the government to order people to stay at home.

However, in a speech on Monday night, Erdoğan insisted the economy must continue to function. “Turkey is a country where production must continue and the cogs must keep turning under every circumstance and every condition,” he said.

Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 46 new deaths due to the coronavirus, marking the deadliest day for the country in its battle against COVID-19. There were 2,704 new cases of coronavirus, which has now claimed the lives of 214 people, the Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter. He confirmed a total number of cases of 13,531.

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the UK’s University of East Anglia, told the FT that Turkey was suffering a “very rapid increase in numbers with quite a few deaths very early in the epidemic curve.”

The FT said that the coronavirus pandemic has reversed the usual political dynamic in Turkey; while Erdogan is usually criticized for being too heavy-handed and repressive, he is now accused of being too laissez-faire in his approach to the crisis. 

“It’s strange for a state like the Turkish state, which is an authoritarian state,” Sinem Adar, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin told the FT. “The Turkish state hasn’t been shy about declaring a state of emergency in the past.”

The government has shut down schools and universities, brought in tight restrictions on travel, and imposed a ban on leaving home for the over-65s. Yet Erdoğan has not imposed a full nationwide lockdown, instead urging people to stay at home in a “voluntary quarantine.”

But work continues at some factories and construction sites, and more than 1.2 million people a day were still using public transport in Istanbul last week, according to municipality statistics.

About 19,000 companies have already applied on behalf of 420,000 employees for a salary support program established as part of a $15 billion package of economic aid announced in March, said the FT.

But the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), Turkey’s largest industrial association, wants the government to go further, as many workers are ineligible for support because they are not part of the formal workforce. 

Emrah Altındiş, assistant professor of biology at Boston College, told the FT that there were two proven ways to limit the size of a coronavirus outbreak - the South Korean model of mass testing and isolating identified cases, or a strict, Chinese-style lockdown.

Turkey conducted 15,422 coronavirus tests on Tuesday, to bring the total tested for the virus to 92,403, according to the latest figures released by the Health Ministry.

“Unlike South Korea we haven’t done the testing. And unlike China we haven’t quarantined the cities,” said Altındiş. “Turkey is not doing what it has to do.”