Turkey records deadliest day in coronavirus battle with 63 new deaths – live blog

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 63 new deaths of people who contracted the coronavirus, marking the second consecutive deadliest day in the battle against COVID-19.

With the new numbers, the total number of coronavirus deaths in Turkey have reached 277, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Another 2,148 people have tested positive for the deadly virus, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 15,679, he added.

Despite the country’s soaring figures, Koca said, the death rate among those who contracted the virus, at 1.58 percent, remains lower than that of many countries.

The health minister, for the first time, shared a provincial breakdown of the coronavirus cases. 

Istanbul has roughly 8852 cases, making up for 60 percent of positive diagnoses in the country, followed by İzmir, Ankara and Kocaeli provinces, respectively, Koca said.

Approximately 80 percent of those who have died after contracting the virus were above the age of 60, the Turkish health minister said, adding that the number of testing centres in the country will soon increase to 89 from their current number of 70.

Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish military transport aircraft flew to Italy and Spain carrying supplies to help the European countries weather the impact of COVID-19. But back home, amid heated debate over the government’s response to the pandemic, the number of known coronavirus cases surged on Tuesday by 2,704 to reach 13,531, and 46 people died after contracting the virus, a record high that brought the death toll to 214.

Italy and Spain have been among the countries hardest hit by the virus, and each recorded more than 800 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday.

But the Turkish planes carrying masks, overalls and anti-bacterial fluids, produced by the Defence Ministry and packaged in Turkish Presidency sealed crates, took off as Turkey’s own major doctors’ union, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), complained about shortages of protective equipment in hospitals at home.

The rate of new infections in Turkey is among the highest in the world, and the TTB has warned that the country should brace for a death toll that could match Italy’s within weeks. The government has gradually ramped up measures, closing businesses, calling on people to stay at home and placing tight restrictions on travel.

But it has resisted the comprehensive lockdown demanded by opposition politicians, and the financial package for people forced to stay at home that this would entail.

Instead, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched what he called a national solidarity campaign to gather donations for Turkey’s poorest on Monday, donating seven months of his own salary. The campaign became a fresh source of debate after the Interior Ministry blocked donations to separate campaigns run by opposition municipalities in Turkey’s largest cities.

(All times Turkish time - GMT +3)

22:59 - Almost all coronavirus cases in Isparta are pilgrims returned from Mecca, AKP deputy says

Recep Özel, the western province of Isparta deputy for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said 245 of 268 coronavirus cases in the city were pilgrims returned from Mecca.

Turkish citizens returning from pilgrimages in Mecca, Saudi Arabia have been placed in 14-day quarantine in university dormitories in several Turkish provinces in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

22:00 - Pandemic stoking tensions between Erdoğan, İmamoğlu

The COVID-19 outbreak has revived the rivalry between the opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Reuters said.

The pair is currently locked in disputes over fundraising for those hardest hit by the outbreak and a potential lockdown, both of which could endanger a coordinated effort to combat the pandemic, it said. 

The Turkish government moved to block municipal-level aid drives by opposition municipalities in a bid to bolster a nationwide campaign launched by Erdoğan on Monday.

21:51- Interior Ministry to further restrict intra-city travel

Intra-city travel will be made more difficult in the coming days and police are set to warn groups larger than two or three, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said. 

Intercity bus travel has dropped by "99 percent’’ in line with measures taken by the government during the COVID-10 outbreak, Diken quoted Soylu as saying.

“We are going to make intra-city travel more difficult. We don’t want privately-owned vehicles to exit their respective provinces,’’ Soylu said.

Soylu said there had been a total of 100,00 travel permit requests made for journeys via plane and bus.

21:45 - Istanbul mayor renews call for lockdown after city declared Turkey's epicentre

The mayor of Istanbul on Wednesday renewed a call for a citywide lockdown after the Turkish Health Ministry announced the city was home to 60 percent of the country’s coroanvirus cases.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has announced that the epicentre of Turkey’s COVID-19 outbreak is in Istanbul, just as we have been saying, Ekrem İmamoğlu said on Twitter.

"A decision for a lockdown in Istanbul, at the very least, should made without delay,’’ the mayor said.

20:02 - One-third of Turks at high-risk for the deadly virus

Bekir Ağırdır, the head of public opinion polling and consultancy firm KONDA, said one-third of the people living in Turkey were in high-risk groups for the coronavirus, T24 reported.

"One-third of people in the country are at risk from either old age or chronic illness," Ağırdır said.

19:30- Medical professor in Istanbul dies with COVID-19

An internal medicine professor at Istanbul’s Çapa University, who was Turkey’s first medical employee to contract COVID-19, has died, T24 new site reported.

Taşçıoğlu had been receiving treatment for the deadly virus since March 16, it said.

19:25 - Turkish government not in need of donations to aid campaign, vice president says

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said the national solidarity campaign, for which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on citizens for donations,
was not launched out of necessity, Karar newspaper reported.

Turkey started the campaign to raise funds for the ones who will be hit hard by the pandemic to revive the country's tradition of solidarity, Oktay said.

"This is not a campaign, which was launched because we need anything. We need to grasp this," Oktay said.

19:20 - Ruling AKP municipalities immune to ministry ban on aid campaigns

Municipalities run by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are continuing their aid campaigns to collect money for low-income families hit by the effects of the pandemic despite a circular by the Interior Ministry earlier this week warning against municipal initiatives.

Municipal campaigns are ongoing in the central province of Konya and the eastern province of Gaziantep, both run by the ruling AKP, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported. 

The opposition municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul are preparing to take legal action following a move by state-bank to block the donation account of the former following the ministry’s circular. 

 “It is free to collect aid in for the municipality in Konya, but it is banned in Ankara and Istanbul. Their [the government's] problem is aid being given to the people,” CHP Istanbul Deputy Gürsel Tekin said on Twitter.

19:12 - Turkish Airlines sends staff on 'voluntary' unpaid leave in pandemic cost reduction measure

Turkish Airlines said it took certain measures, including "voluntary" unpaid leave and limited shifts for workers, in a bid to reduce costs during the coronavirus outbreak, Gazete Duvar reported.

"Our company is taking cost-cutting measures regarding personnel expenses, such as voluntary unpaid leave and reduced shifts," Turkish Airlines said in a statement.

18:40 - Ex-Erdoğan ally points out social crisis after government's coronavirus campaign

Former prime minister and leader of the new Future Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, criticised the government for requesting aid from citizens during the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to pending social blowout due to an economic crisis.

"A social state provides help, it does not request it. If the state requests alms-giving (zakaat), then suspicion will arise that the treasury is empty,’’ T24 news site quoted Davutoğlu as saying, referring to the Religious Affairs Directorate-supported national pandemic campaign.

"A budget, discretionary funds are for days like this. If you have been turning a blind eye to the financial crisis setting flame to the household, then we should all be concerned about social blowouts,’’ the Future Party leader said.

18:35 - Turkey bars carpooling for all but close relatives 

Turkey's Interior Ministry has limited carpooling to close relatives only as part of measures to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Hürriyet said.

After Turkey placed tight restrictions on intercity travel, many people have tried to leave the country's major cities by unregistered taxis, Hürriyet said.

The governor of Istanbul earlier this week barred taxis and car-hailing web applications to be used for intercity transit.

18:30 - Traffic down by 90 pct, lockdown still on the table - interior minister 

Intracity traffic in Turkey has decreased by up to 90 percent on weekends and up to 65 percent during weekdays following measures by the Turkish government to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Interior Minister Sülyeman Soylu said.

Around 211,900 businesses have been shut down in line with the measures, Diken news site quoted Soylu as saying.

“If the limitations brought forth by the Turkish government are not followed, then any kind of precaution is possible,” Soylu said, responding to a question about an increasingly-demanded full lockdown.

17:45 - Almost 200 firms fined for price gouging

Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said 191 firms have been fined for selling masks at exorbitant prices and endangering the health of citizens during the coronavirus.

A total of 105 police raids took place in 30 provinces between March 9-28, during which over 2 million masks, 142,000 gloves, and more than 175,000 bottles of disinfectant were seized, Pekcan told NTV.

17:15 - Authorities place village in central Turkey into quarantine

Turkish authorities have placed a village in the central province of Niğde into quarantine as part of measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

"Our citizens should never come together, stay in their homes and stay inside the village boundaries, and comply with the isolation rules for the next 14 days," Niğde governorate said in a statement.

16:53 - 98 Turkish citizens abroad die after contracting coronavirus

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said 98 Turkish citizens living abroad had died after contracting the coronavirus.

The minister also said more than 20,000 Turkish citizens living in 50 countries had been brought back to Turkey.

16:35 - Turkey targets more than 2,500 social media users who sent ‘provocative posts’ on virus

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the country detected over 2,500 social media accounts spreading what he said false information about the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have detected 2,863 social media accounts spreading false information about the COVID-19 outbreak in our country," Soylu said.

The minister said that false information on social media will not go unpunished.

16:15 - Turkey’s Halbank donates $8.4 million to national pandemic aid campaign 

Turkey’s state-run Halkbank has announced that it has made a donation of 56 million lira ($8.4 million) to the national aid campaign to support low-income families during the coronavirus pandemic.

Halkbank follows another state-run bank, Vakıfbank, which donated 50 million lira ($7.5 million) to the campaign kicked off by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, Sabah newspaper reported.

15:20 – Transport Ministry to oversee construction of roads to new Istanbul hospital

Turkey’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministry will take over the construction of a road to a new hospital complex in Istanbul’s Başakşehir district, Anadolu news agency reported.

Erdoğan ordered the opening of the new city hospital, which will hold 2,800 beds, to help the country deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The ministry is to take over the construction of roads from the opposition-controlled Istanbul Municipality.

14:55 – Turkey needs at least 15,000 new intensive care nurses, association head says

Turkey needs to recruit at least 15,000 nurses to make up for a shortfall of staff in intensive care units and tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Ebru Kıraner, the head of the country’s Association of Intensive Care Nurses told Gazete Duvar.

Newly recruited nurses should start in other units to gain experience, while nurses with relevant experience should be transferred to intensive care, Kıraner said.

14:10 – Spanish minister thanks Turkey for coronavirus supplies

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs European Union & Cooperation Arancho Gonzalez tweeted her thanks for the consignment of medical supplies Turkey sent in a military aircraft this morning.

“Gracias #Turquia,” Gonzalez said in a tweet addressed to the Spanish Embassy in Turkey and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Gracias #Turquía 🙏🙏@EmbEspTurquia @MevlutCavusoglu #COVID19 #EsteVirusLoParamosUnidos https://t.co/LCQFrWlGpX

— Arancha González (@AranchaGlezLaya) April 1, 2020

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg also tweeted his pride “to see NATO Allies supporting each other through our disaster relief center.”

Gracias #Turquía 🙏🙏@EmbEspTurquia @MevlutCavusoglu #COVID19 #EsteVirusLoParamosUnidos https://t.co/LCQFrWlGpX

— Arancha González (@AranchaGlezLaya) April 1, 2020

11:51 - Taxpayer will foot bill of Erdoğan's donations drive - opposition leader

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, told Sözcü newspaper that a 2014 legal amendment would allow people to reclaim through income tax deductions their donations to Erdoğan's campaign to raise funds for low-income Turks.

11:10 - Police seize nearly 30,000 illegal medical masks

Turkish police seized 29,400 medical masks illegally produced in factories in Istanbul on Tuesday, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The police raided the mills in the Küçükçekmece and Bahçelievler districts after receiving a tip-off and then sealed the facilities, an official told Anadolu.

11:15 - Turkish locally produced ventilator ready to go

Turkish firms have produced a prototype of the country’s first domestically produced ventilator and are ready to begin production, Selçuk Bayraktar, the chief technology officer of the country’s leading drone manufacturer Baykar said on Monday.

The ventilators, designed by Turkish tech firm BIOSYS and produced with the backing of Baykar, appliances firm Arçelik and defence manufacturer Aselsan, will be donated to Turkish hospitals. Baykar has ordered 250 of the ventilators from BIOSYS.

Yerli solumun cihazımızın seri üretim ilk deneme prototipi...@biyovent tasarladı, @arcelik üretti, @aselsan ve @baykar_savunma mühendislerinin teknik destek ve katkılarıyla...#BirlikteBaşaracağız #MilliTeknolojiHamlesi 🇹🇷 pic.twitter.com/bGPHpxaIIX

— Selçuk Bayraktar (@Selcuk) March 30, 2020

10:40 – Turkish Defence Ministry flies aid to Italy and Spain

The Turkish Defence Ministry tweeted images of A-400M military transport aircraft taking off to carry aid packages to Italy and Spain on Wednesday “upon instructions of the president.”

The packages contained protective equipment and anti-bacterial fluids produced by the ministry.

Health supplies prepared to fight COVID-19 together, and with the hopes of seeing brighter days were sent en route to Spain and Italy by A-400M type planes belonging to the Turkish Armed Forces.https://t.co/o7zcZJ6JEP pic.twitter.com/Fp3GWs5yTH

— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) April 1, 2020

00:55 - Inmates in Van rage against lack of coronavirus measures in prison

Prison inmates in Van rioted against the lack of necessary measures taken in jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said.

The riot has ended and no injuries have been reported yet, HDP deputy Murat Sarisaç announced on Twitter.

Sarisaç posted a video of Van M-Type Prison, where angry shouting could be heard in the distance.

Van M-Tipine giden avukat arkadaşalarımızdan aldığımız bilgiye göre;infaz yasasında yapılacak değişikliklerden dolayı protesto haklarını kullanmışlar. Şuan yaralanma veya ona benzer bir durum yok. Olaylar durmuş durumda. #İnfazdaEşitlikYaşatır https://t.co/PccsdgxM0U

— Murat Sarısaç (@muratsarisac) March 31, 2020

The prisoners rebelled because of the measures not taken in relation to coronavirus and changes to the new execution law introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party to parliament, Murat Sarisaç said

00:40 - Ankara mayor stops working with Vakifbank over gov't block

Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş will longer do business with state-run Vakifbank, following bank's decision to implement a government's order to block the municipality's account, news agency Anka wrote.

Turkish municipalities cannot collect financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic without permission from the provincial governor’s office, the Interior Ministry said earlier on Tuesday, preventing opposition-run municipalities from collecting donations to distribute to low-income households in major cities.

SON DAKİKA | Ankara Büyükşehir Belediyesi bünyesinde çalışanların maaş aldığı Vakıfbank ile çalışmama kararı aldı.

— ANKA Canlı #EvdeKalTürkiye (@ANKAHaberCanli) March 31, 2020

23:45 - Dismissed mayor released from prison after testing positive for COVID-19

Dismissed Mazıdağı Municipality co-mayor Ms. Nalan Özaydın was released from the Tarsus T Type prison due to testing positive for COVID-19. Özaydın will be taken to home following quarantine.

A deputy for the opposition Republican People’s Party, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, shared the former mayor's release order on Twitter, saying the case revealed how the coronavirus has already spread into jails.

Tarsus'ta tutukluyken #Covid19 testinin pozitif olması nedeniyle Mardin'e nakledilden Mazıdağı BB. #NalanÖzaydın bugün tahliye edildi.
Bu vaka #coronavirüs’ün cezaevlerine bulaştığının göstergesidir. Tutukulular bakımından masumiyet karinesi esastır.
YaşamHak TasarıYetersiz pic.twitter.com/OGIvmsKX5J

— Sezgin Tanrıkulu (@MSTanrikulu) March 31, 2020

22:15 - Leading Turkish medical union says sharing information duty, right

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the trade union representing most of Turkey's doctors, has criticised the government after two of the organisation’s chairmen were summoned to give statements to police after sharing information on COVID-19.

TTB district offices collected local data on the deadly virus and tweeted it, prompting officials to summon the association’s Van and Mardin chairs to their local police departments to give statements regarding information they shared.

"The monopoly on sharing information does not belong to any public authority,’’ SoL news site quoted the TTB as saying in a statement it issued. "We are going to continue sharing information we have with our colleagues and all segments of society.’’

21:30 - Governor in northwest Turkey test positive for COVID-19

The Governor of Turkey’s northwestern province of Kırklareli, Osman Bilgin, has tested positive for coronavirus, has tested positive for coronavirus, Hürriyet newspaper reported.

Bilgin has been placed under quarantine for 14 days, during which time the provincial deputy governor will be resuming the governor's duties.

21:09 - Istanbul, Ankara municipalities taking legal action against gov’t block of aid campaigns

The opposition municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul have rolled up their sleeves to take legal action against an Interior Ministry circular issued on Tuesday looking to block their city councils from collecting aid during the coronavirus pandemic, Duvar news site reported.

Banks on Tuesday blocked donations to municipal campaigns collecting aid for the needy during the outbreak in Istanbul and Ankara after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a national campaign for the same purpose on Monday.

The opposition municipalities are taking the matter to court, citing the law on metropolitan municipalities 5393 and 5216, which state that municipalities are free to collect aid, it said.

20:00 - Turkey’s COVID-19 cases may soar to 300,00 in 10 days - medical expert

If Turkey’s coronavirus cases maintain their current trajectory, the country may see its total cases soar as high as 300,000 in the next 10 days, medical academic and Chairman of Turkey’s Infectious Diseases Association, Mehmet Ceylan, said.

The medical professor at Ankara’s Hacettepe University said that Turkey’s contagion momentum was the fastest in the world according to official data, Tele 1 news site reported.