Steep rise brings Turkey's coronavirus death toll to 908 - live blog

Ninety-six patients have died after contracting the coronavirus in Turkey in the past 24 hours, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in his daily briefing on Thursday.

The latest deaths brought the official death toll from COVID-19 to 908, and marked the second day when the country recorded a steep rise in its death toll.

But Koca said there was a silver lining to the 4,056 new coronavirus cases added to Turkey’s tally of infections on Thursday, which has now reached 42,282.

“As we’ve increased the number of tests, the rate of (newly diagnosed) cases is declining,” the minister said, adding that 296 people had recovered from the illness in the last day bringing the total number of recoveries to 2,142.

More than 1,550 patients have been admitted to intensive care, and 1,017 have been intubated, the latest figures said.

The number of Turkish healthcare workers who have contracted COVID-19 is far higher than has been officially reported, the Istanbul Medical Chamber (ITO) has warned.

Koca had said on Monday that 601 healthcare workers had tested positive for the coronavirus across Turkey.

But the ITO said that information it had collected in the field suggested that more than 1,000 healthcare personnel had been infected by the coronavirus in Istanbul alone. 

ITO said the lack of protective equipment for doctors had left health workers treating coronavirus patients in some cases without medical masks and gloves.

(All times Turkish local time - GMT+3)

23:45 – Coronavirus cases in Turkey expected to drop in May, expert says

The number of coronavirus cases in Turkey is expected to drop in May, Anadolu news agency reported.

"I expect that COVID-19 will reach its peak by the end of April, and will start recession in May. The question is with how many patients we will reach the peak point," said Anadolu, quoting Dr. Mesut Yilmaz, an infectious diseases expert from Medipol University Hospital in Istanbul. “The question is how many patients will reach the peak point."

The current Turkish health minister, Fahrettin Koca, founded Medipol in 2009.

23:09 – 90 percent of big city residents staying home, interior minister says
Between 85 percent and 90 percent of residents in Turkey’s largest cities are remaining at home to wait out the coronavirus pandemic, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said.

The minister added that more than 122,000 citizens had been placed under quarantine and 138,000 were self-isolating at home, Diken said.

23:05 – Official coronavirus death toll and number of buried do not match up, opposition lawmaker says
There is a discrepancy between Turkey’s official COVID-19 death toll and the number of burials, Karar quoted Özgür Özel, a deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, as saying.

Three-hundred people buried in Istanbul between the first recorded coronavirus case on March 11 and March 31 had been diagnosed with non-coronavirus infectious diseases, Özel said during a parliament session, adding that this number was far higher than those who died from the coronavirus.

22:43 – Turkey, North Macedonia discuss coronavirus cooperation

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a telephone discussion on the coronavirus with his North Macedonian counterpart, Stevo Pendarovski, Anadolu news agency reported.

The leaders discussed how they could cooperate in their response to the pandemic, as well as other regional matters, Anadolu said.

21:00 – Turkish government tells NGOs virtual meetings violate COVID-19 measures

Virtual meetings violate the government's measures to counter the coronavirus, Turkey’s Foundations General Directorate told NGOs on Thursday.

The government body, which regulates the country’s foundations and NGOs, published a letter warning that online conferences go against an Interior Ministry ban on NGO meetings and activities during the pandemic.

“Why are you ignoring the state and holding an electronic virtual meeting? Will COVID-19 go through the screen?” Twitter user Ayşen Şahin quizzed sarcastically, while posting a copy of the letter online.

Nate Schenkkan from Freedom House, a democracy and human rights watchdog, said the ban was the Turkish government’s way of freezing the civil sector until July.

20:30 – Prisoners ignored after raising coronavirus alarm in southeast Turkey - report

The mother of an inmate in Şanlıurfa has raised the alarm that the coronavirus may have reached a prison in the southeastern province, Mezopotamya news agency reported.

An inmate at the the prison in Hilvan, Şanlıurfa, told his mother in a phone conversation that cold symptoms were widespread throughout the prison and the warden had ignored the concerns about the coronavirus raised by six other prisoners and refused to have them tested or treated, Mezopotamya said.

18:30 – Mersin least affected city from COVID-19
The city of Mersin in southern Turkey has a low number of coronavirus-related deaths and cases compared to other large Turkish population hubs, T24 reported.
One person has died in Mersin, which has 30 cases, the lowest among all of the country’s metropolitan cities.
With authorities across the country instructing citizens to stay at home, the Mersin municipality imposed a parking along the central Adnan Menderes Boulevard and blocked access to the beach, the news site said.
The city’s health facilities have made extra preparations to tackle the virus, including the 1,300-bed Mersin City Education and Research Hospital, T24 said.

18:30 – Under-20s with special needs can visit public parks and gardens, Interior Ministry says

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said in a circular on Thursday that it would allow youths with special needs to go out to parks and gardens despite the curfew on people below the age of 20.

The circular said the mental and physical health of children and young people diagnosed with autism, down syndrome, or other disorders would be kept negatively impacted if they were kept in a closed environment for long periods.

They will be allowed to leave their residences to go to parks and gardens within the same province, provided that they have their documents with them and comply with appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures, the ministry said.

14:38 - Yeast demand soars as Turks turn to baking in isolation

Demand for yeast saw a six-fold increase after the government called on all people to self-isolate at home last month, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The increase comes as people turn to baking their own bread at home, Anadolu said.

14:20 - Turkish pharmacies to distribute free masks

Turkish pharmacies are to distribute face masks free of charge to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the Istanbul Chamber of Pharmacists said.

People between the ages of 20 and 65 will be given five masks per person for a 10-day period.

Masks will be distributed free of charge once they are provided to pharmacies by the Health Ministry. People can receive their masks using a code in a mobile phone message that will be sent by the Health Ministry.

14:01 - Turkish Red Crescent to distribute free hand sanitiser

Turkish Red Crescent will distribute hand sanitiser to people as part of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Turkish authorities have focused on producing medical supplies to battle shortages and price hikes due to the coronavirus.

13:15 - Turkish official sacked after telling Roma woman suffering from poverty to “drop dead” on Twitter

Turkey’s Family and Social Policies Ministry has sacked Nail Noğay, its Istanbul provincial deputy manager, after he told a Roma woman complaining of hunger and poverty during the coronavirus outbreak to “drop dead” on Twitter, news site Diken said.

Noğay commented late on April 8 on a video shared by Euronews that featured a Roma woman saying she had been forced to go outside to look in rubbish bins to find food for her children.

“You’re saying ‘Stay home,’ but I have to go out. We have children and we are hungry. They’re telling me to not go out, but I have to. What else can I do without an income?” she said.

Noğay later deleted his tweet – which simply said “geber” (“drop dead”) – after a backlash online. The Family Ministry said it would also open an investigation into his behaviour.

12:45 - Turkish police detain 462 people for illegal production and sale of coronavirus supplies

Turkish police have detained 462 people for the illegal sale or production of disinfectants, cologne, masks, and other medical products in high demand during the coronavirus outbreak, Hürriyet said.

Police forces and gendarmerie anti-smuggling and organised crime teams launched 288 operations across 65 provinces to arrest those suspected of producing counterfeit, unauthorised, or unsafe products or for selling supplies at inflated prices.

Around 6 million masks, 150,000 pairs of medical gloves, and around 18,500 bottles of cologne were seized in the raids.

11:45 - Turkey’s Education Ministry mobilises schools to produce 10,000 face protection shields a day

Turkey’s Education Ministry has mobilised vocational and technical high schools to produce 10,000 face protection shields a day to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, Anadolu news agency said.

The ministry said mass production had now started and that it is also overseeing the production of cleaning and disinfection products, disposable gowns, overalls, and face masks.

11:05 - Turkey bans charges for COVID-19 treatment

Turkey has banned medical charges for the diagnosis and treatment of the coronavirus, news site Diken said.

Treatment for the coronavirus has been included within the scope of emergency health services, following an amendment to the Healthcare Implementation Communique which was published in Turkey’s Official Gazette.

10:40 - Greece seizes tonnes of contraband medical supplies from Turkey, China

Greece’s Economic Crime Prosecution Corps (SDOE) has confiscated tonnes of contraband antiseptic gel, face masks, and other personal protective equipment originating from Turkey and China, the Greek Reporter said.

The SDOE’s Attica division seized more than four tonnes of antiseptic gels and 2,308 face masks in a raid on a company that had been illegally selling products in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Products had been found without legal import documentation, and therefore could not be verified for their quality and safety, the SDOE said. Hand sanitisers require special authorisation from Greece’s National Medicines Organisation, but have been imported as cosmetic products to try to circumvent quality control.

10:00 - Coronavirus may be spreading in Turkish jails, rights groups say

Rights groups have warned that the coronavirus may be spreading in Turkish jails and have called for more transparency, Cumhuriyet said.

Gülseren Yoleri, head of the Human Rights Association (İHD)’s Istanbul branch, said that five prisoners in the high-security Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul had complained of having coronavirus symptoms, such as difficulties breathing, harsh coughs, a high fever, and loss of appetite.

Yoleri said the İHD was unable to confirm the information, which had been providing to them by families of the prisoners by phone. She also said that the İHD had received unconfirmed reports that some prison doctors had been quarantined because of the virus.

09:30 - More than 1,000 Istanbul health personnel infected with coronavirus, group says

The number of Turkish healthcare workers that have contracted COVID-19 is far higher than the official count, the Istanbul Medical Chamber (ITO) said.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on April 6 that 601 healthcare workers had tested positive for the coronavirus across the country.

"However, the information we have gathered from the field shows that the number of doctors and health workers infected with COVID-19 has already exceeded 1,000 only in Istanbul," ITO said in a statement.

ITO said the lack of protective equipment for doctors had left health workers treating coronavirus patients in some cases without medical masks and gloves.

23:46 - Turkey to increase control over social media during outbreak

A draft law by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as part of measures to provide aid to Turks hit by the coronavirus outbreak will extend the government's control over the social media, Birgün said.

In addition to financial aids to several sectors, the draft law also obliges foreign websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to name representatives in Turkey to be contacted by Turkish authorities for removal of contents deemed inappropriate by the authorities, Birgün said.

The websites will be required to answer content removal demands within 72 hours, according to the draft law. 

"It was stated that internet traffic of the websites which does not comply with the rules, will be gradually limited by a court decision," Birgün said.

22:55 - Turkey’s top media watchdog fines TV station over incorrect pandemic report

The Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has imposed a fine on critical Halk TV over a report which incorrectly stated the number of COVID-19 deaths among the country’s healthcare workers.

Halk TV reported that 601 healthcare workers in Turkey had died due to the coronavirus, incorrectly sharing Health Minister Fahrettin Koca’s figure on the number of workers in the sector who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The fine arrives despite a statement by Halk TV officials that the report was broadcast in error, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.