Turkey eases coronavirus measures as experts urge caution

Turkey eased restrictions in 15 provinces taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak as the authorities say the pandemic is now under control and the country's COVID-19 cases remain at the "anticipated level".

The Turkish government has begun to ease its infection-preventing measures in the provinces – including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – amid a drop in the number of reported daily COVID-19 deaths and infections in recent weeks.

Restaurants, cafes, gyms and swimming pools, beaches, parks, libraries and museums are set to resume operations from Monday.

However, certain restrictions will remain on entertainment venues, which will also open on Monday, as live music activities and sports matches will be prohibited to prevent direct contact and a greater risk of contagion.

Domestic flights resumed in the country and other intercity travel restrictions for the provinces were also lifted on Monday.

Governorate-issued special permits had been required for intercity travel in Turkey's worst-affected 31 provinces since late March. Turkish authorities gradually lifted the restrictions for the other affected 16 provinces.

Daycare centres and kindergartens are also reopening, but curfews for those aged over 65 and under 18 will continue.

However, some experts say the lifting of the prevention measures may be premature.

The head of Turkey’s leading medical association warned that the spread of COVID-19 to other provinces from Istanbul, which reportedly contains roughly 60 percent of the country’s cases, could spike the infection rate.

“We know that 80 percent of the infected are asymptomatic. Let’s say you open travel from Istanbul to all provinces. You are, in a sense, sending (off) the virus,’’ Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Chairman Sinan Adıyaman said.

The Istanbul Municipality's Scientific Advisory Board said the normalisation process may bring violations of social distancing rules.

"Due to increased socialising, the second wave of the pandemic may hit Turkey in October. The most troublesome process has begun now," the board said in a statement on Monday.

Thousands of Turks questioned the easing of restrictions on Twitter.

"Here is your normalisation! #stayathome," one Twitter user said, sharing a photo of people not following social distancing rules.

"Yes, enjoy your normalisation. Where is social distancing?" said another user.

The coronavirus outbreak has claimed more than 4,500 lives in Turkey and infected more than 160,000. Contrary to warnings from experts, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Sunday said he did not expect a new wave of COVID-19 in the country.