Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 108 as confirmed cases total 7,402 - live blog

Turkey on Saturday announced 16 new deaths and 1,704 new cases from the novel coronavirus, raising the total number of people diagnosed to 7,402.

The total number of people who have died with COVID-19 in Turkey now totals 108, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

A total of 7,641 tests have been conducted in the last day, Koca said.

A total of 70 patients have recovered from COVID-19 and discharged from hospitals since the beginning of the outbreak on March 11, according to the ministry's data, which said 445 patients remained in treatment at intensive care units.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan late on Friday announced new measures to combat the spread of the virus, including the suspension of all overseas flights have been and intercity travel  by permit obtained from governorates.

Recreational sites will be closed during weekends, and large groups will not be allowed in on weekdays. The governors of Turkey’s 30 largest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, were granted greater powers to implement the limitations, Erdoğan announced.

Erdoğan also said that the public and private sectors will switch to a flexible working system with minimum personnel. Soldiers coming in or leaving the army will have to comply with the 14-day quarantine rule, he said.

"If we do not want these new measures to progress to further points, then we must comply with the voluntary quarantine and do not leave home," Erdoğan said. "We have seen many examples in the world of what great calamities await us if we don't follow the rules. Look what the U.S. has come to."

The new measures come as Turkey’s infection rate continues to rise rapidly with the country doubling its cases daily.

Turkey's intensive care units are 37 to 38 percent free at the moment, according to the minister. The number covers all ICU beds in all public and private hospitals, including those that are not capable of treating COVID-19 cases.

Koca also announced the launch of a ministry website to inform the public of daily developments. 

The new measures announced by Erdoğan on Friday still fell short of calls by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu earlier this week for the government to impose a stricter curfew as more than a million people had used public transport in Turkey’s largest city during the most critical period to halt the epidemic. The Turkish Medical Association called on the government to provide workers with paid leave in order to keep millions of workers at home and prevent the spread of infection.

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(All times local, GMT+3)

21:55 - Children banned from entering Istanbul’s street markets, supermarkets

Children in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul will be banned from entering the city’s street markets and supermarkets as part of measures taken to stop the spread of coronavirus, Governor Ali Yerlikaya announced on Saturday.

The move is part of an effort to "stop residents from strolling in street markets with their children" the governor said on Twitter, adding that he believes mothers and fathers will demonstrate the effort necessary in helping the battle against the pandemic.

21:45 - Taxis, car-hailing apps banned from intercity travel - Istanbul governor

The governor of Istanbul has said that taxis and car-hailing web applications cannot be used for intercity transit.

"Permission for intercity travel is at the hands of the Travel Permission Committee,’’ Karar newspaper quoted Ali Yerlikaya as saying, referring to a special permit now required for such travel.

Earlier on Saturday, Yerlikaya announced intercity bus travel from Istanbul would be suspended as of 5 p.m. local time.

21:00 - Turkey’s COVID-19 cases increase at alarming rate

Turkey’s test-to-diagnosis ratio for detecting coronavirus climbed to 27.46 percent by March 27, former Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lawmaker Sinan Oğan said.

The ratio was 11.14 percent on Wednesday.

As of Saturday, Turkey has conducted 55,464 coronavirus tests in total and confirmed 7,402 positive cases, the Health Ministry said.

Although Saturday’s figures point to a drop to 22.30 percent in the test-to-diagnosis ratio, there is still cause for concern, Oğan said.

The first case in the country was diagnosed on March 11.

Turkey is among the nations with the highest increase in COVID-19 cases, doubling each day, according to a map by the Financial Times. The map is based on data provided by John Hopkins University.

20:51 - Chairman of doctors chamber summoned to police station over COVID-19 statements

Turkish officials have summoned the chairman of a chamber of doctors in the country’s southeastern province of Mardin to a police station to give a statement on his comments over coronavirus.

The co-chairman of the Mardin Chamber of Doctors, Osman Sağlam, in two separate interviews with news outlets, had said current measures against battling the pandemic in Turkey were inadequate.

Prosecutors launched an investigation into Sağlam’s statements, for which he was accused of stirring fear and panic in the public, Artı Gerçek news site said.

 17:55 - Village in central Yozgat province under quarantine

The governor’s office of a village in the central province of Yozgat under quarantine as part of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, Artı Gerçek news site reported. 

All entry and exit to Yukarıkarahacılı village has been suspended until further notice, the governor’s office said. 

16:50 - Turkish university working on blood serum treatment for COVID-19 - AA

The Gaziantep University in Turkey’s southeast has been working to improve a blood serum-based treatment for COVID-19, Rector Ali Gür told reporters.

The university has improved a blood transfusion method by preventing the transfer of pathogens between a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 and another who is currently infected, Gür said.

The university needs blood donors who have already recovered from the virus, which means they would have COVID-19-specific antibodies in their blood.

China and the United States have developed their own blood serum transfusion methods, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved one study on plasma transfer, Gür said, adding that the university expects to have a treatment ready by late April.

16:25 - Over 2,000 called Istanbul municipality distress line, says mayor

Over 2,000 people have rung a psychological support hotline set up by the Istanbul municipality to support those struggling through the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s mayor said.

The calls to the hotline, which was set up earlier this week, came from 26 towns across Turkey and three different countries, Diken news site quoted Ekrem İmamoğlu as saying.  

“All our psychologists are ready to help you. But you should also find ways in which to relieve yourself [during the quarantine],” İmamoğlu said.

The Istanbul mayor said he had talks with approximately 45 mayors and “every town is in a great struggle,” he said.

16:00 - Turkey's musicians get creative amid quarantine

Kardeş Türküler, a band that focuses on multi-ethnic, multilingual traditional songs of Turkey’s diverse population, has released a music video recorded over video conferencing as band members practice social distancing.

“Music everywhere, art everywhere! To the healthy days to come when we will sing together,” the band captioned the video they posted on Twitter.

15:30 - Turkish neurologist warns against COVID-19 effects on brain

COVID-19, in some cases, is capable of affecting the cerebral function of the brain, Medical Sciences University Gülhane Neurology Clinic administrator Ömer Karadaş told Anadolu Agency.

Coronavirus-related cerebral damage may lead to nausea, loss of consciousness, imbalance while walking, epilepsy, neuralgic pain, loss of senses and skeletal muscle pains, Karadaş said.

An aggravating factor in patients who fall severely ill was found to be underlying conditions regarding the brain and the brain stem, according to Karadaş.“It is not clear yet whether the neurological symptoms arise from the coronavirus or secondary effects,” Karadaş said. “As the virus disrupts function in many internal organs and causes failures, its effect on the brain cannot be distinguished from the metabolic failures it leads to.”

15:10 - Turkey’s main opposition party calls for nation-wide lockdown
The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has called for a nation-wide lockdown as the country’s coronavirus cases rose to over 5,500 on Friday.

"It is evident at the point we have reached today that there is need for a wide, comprehensive and effective lockdown and quarantine," news site T24 quoted Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as saying. 

Current measures are inadequate, the CHP leader said, adding, however, that it was not necessary to declare a state of emergency to fight the pandemic.

Kılıçdaroğlu called on natural gas and electricity companies to make sacrifices by postponing the due dates of customers’ bills as the country battles the pandemic.

CHP Spokesman Faik Öztrak also urged the government to declare a curfew without a state of emergency.

“Nobody should even think of a new state of emergency," Duvar news site quoted Öztrak as saying. 
Turkey lifted in 2018 a two-year-long state of emergency following the July 2016 coup attempt.

14:59 - Turkish Airlines limits domestic flights to 14 cities

Following a decision to suspend all foreign flights, Turkish Airlines has moved to limit the number domestic flights to 14 cities in the country as part of a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19, the airlines' Chief Executive Officer Bilal Ekşi said.

Accordingly, as of Sunday, the airlines will only fly to İstanbul, Ankara, Samsun, Trabzon, Erzurum, Van, Diyarbakır, Malatya, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Konya, Adana, Antalya and Izmir.

14:55 - Turkish Justice Ministry extends coronavirus measures in prisons

Turkey’s Justice Ministry has extended the ban on family and lawyer visits in all prisons, special leaves in open prisons, and transfers between correctional facilities for another two weeks as part of the country’s measures against the coronavirus pandemic, state-run Anadolu Agency  reported.

Prisoners will also not be allowed to work outside prison campuses. Social activities involving more than one ward are included in the ban, as well as prisoners’ purchases from outside sources, and preschool education for children who stay with their mothers in prisons.

Prosecutors may issue permits for family visits in extraordinary circumstances, and lawyers may visit their clients if they wear protective equipment.

14:35 - Istanbul governor announces travel ban

Intercity bus travel from Istanbul will be suspended as of 17:00 today, the megacity’s Governor Ali Yerlikaya announced in a tweet.

The measure comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Friday that all intercity travel will be subject to permission from provincial governors as part of the country’s measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Patients who are transferred on doctors’ orders, people who have severely ill first-degree relatives or need to attend funerals of first-degree relatives, as well as residents of other provinces who travelled to Istanbul within the last 15 days and don’t have a place to stay, can appeal to district governorates to obtain travel permits, the governor said.

13:55 - Turkey investigates 372 people over coronavirus-related charges

Turkish prosecutors have launched investigations against 372 people over coronavirus-related charges, such as disseminating misleading news, offending senior citizens, non-compliance with quarantine rules, stockpiling, and selling counterfeit disinfectant and personal protective equipment, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

A total of 314 people have been charged over misleading social media posts, and one person was arrested, AA said.

Two people were arrested and three others released on parole over stockpiling and counterfeiting.

13:40 - First coronavirus patient dies in northern Cyprus

The health ministry of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has announced the first death due to the COVID-19 coronavirus in the northern third of the Mediterranean island it controls, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

A 67-year-old German tourist lost his life in a Nicosia hospital on the Turkish side of the divided capital. The man had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and problems with his blood pressure, according to the ministry statement.

The first case of coronavirus in the Turkish part of the island was diagnosed on March 10, and the virus has infected 61 people to date.

12:35 - Ankara suspends utility bills for April

The Ankara Metropolitan Municipality will not be reading utility metres in April, it announced on Saturday, as part of its efforts to support the capital’s residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

General households will receive bills based on 80 percent of their consumption during February, while students’ flats and small businesses will not be billed at all.

Billing will return to normal once extraordinary measures are no longer needed, the municipality said.

12:20 - Turkish private hospitals demand better compensation from health ministry

Turkey’s Health Ministry should cover staff and administrative costs for private hospitals to be used as part of the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Private Healthcare Centres Association Chairman Reşat Bahat said.

“They can use our hospitals as much as they want, but they should pay for our costs,” Bahat said. “We do not want anything extra. But we do not have endless resources.”

Turkey last week reclassified qualifying private hospitals as pandemic hospitals, which will treat coronavirus patients at no additional out-of-pocket cost to them.

11:15 - Fifteen police officers in Turkey test positive for COVID-19

Fifteen members of Turkey’s police force, including two police commissioners, have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, daily Hürriyet reported.

Ten of the 15 officers were stationed in Istanbul, which has a population of more than 16 million people. The officers were all hospitalised and continue to receive treatment.

Istanbul’s working class district of Zeytinburnu was the hardest hit, as both the district police department’s second degree chief, deputy chief constable and fourth degree chief were hospitalised with symptoms.