Turkey's COVID-19 death toll rises to 21 – live blog

The Turkish Health Ministry announced late on Saturday Turkey’s coronavirus death toll had shot up to 21 from nine victims, after 12 elderly people succumbed to the pandemic that has stopped countries in its tracks.

“We lost 12 of our elderly patients,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted. “The risk of death increases with age.”

He urged elderly citizens to comply with a partial curfew that restricts people aged 65 years and older, as well as those with chronic medical conditions, from leaving their residences to prevent a further risk of infection.

The minister said the number of confirmed cases has increased from 670 to 947.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at midnight on Friday posted a voice message on Twitter to address the public and give guidelines on measures against the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The message, which urges people to stay at home and be mindful of the elderly and chronically ill, will be delivered to Turkish citizens through robocalls, especially to those over the age of 50, state-run Anadolu agency reported.

Turkey tested 3,656 suspected patients for coronavirus on Friday, Koca said on Friday, added he expected the number of coronavirus diagnoses to reach a peak in two to three weeks.

Turkey could have as many as 145,000 undiagnosed coronavirus cases, Dr Muhammet Emin Akkoyunlu, a pulmonologist from Medipol University, said on a televised debate on Friday.

All private hospitals in Turkey which meet the criteria were declared to be “pandemic hospitals,” which will require them to dedicate several wards and ICUs to patients who need treatment for COVID-19.

Schools, universities and mosques have been temporarily closed, professional sports have been halted, and incoming flights from 20 countries have been suspended. Turkish border troops carried out disinfection operations on the Syrian border to battle the spread of the coronavirus, Son Dakika Türk reported late on Friday.

Erdoğan has announced a 100-billion-lira ($15.4 billion) package of measures to support Turkey’s economy after the pandemic sent the lira spiralling to its lowest level since September 2018.

(All times local - GMT +3)

00:00 - Ses Kocaeli editor-in-chief detained for reporting coronavirus deaths

The editor-in-chief for Turkish daily Ses Kocaeli, Ismail Çiğil, was purportedly detained after reporting on the deaths of two coronavirus patients.

“Editor-in-chief Ismail Çiğil was handcuffed and detained in a raid on his house because Ses Kocaeli newspaper reported ‘There were two deaths due to the virus in Derince Hospital,’” news outlet Gazete İstasyon tweeted.

Derince is a town in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.

23:15 - Wife of jailed Kurdish lawmaker Demirtaş calls for release of prisoners

Başak Demirtaş, the wife of jailed former pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, called for the release of the prisoners in Turkey during the coronavirus pandemic.
The conditions in prisons are inadequate to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Demirtaş said.

“Many people continue to remain behind bars despite their old age and bad health, and hundreds of children are in jail with their mothers’’ she added.

Turkey’s prison facilities contain approximately 300,000 inmates. Critics and family members of the inmates, particularly political prisoners, have voiced concerns for the well being of the country’s prisoner population during the pandemic. 

23:10 - Turkey’s restaurants to provide take-out, delivery only

All dining areas are being removed from Turkey’s restaurants as they prepare for providing take-out and delivery services only, news site T24 reported citing a notice by the Interior Ministry.

All food establishments, including bakeries, will no longer offer a dine-in option effective midnight, the ministry said

21:50 -  S&P lowers Turkish Airlines' ratings to B 

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has lowered the ratings of Turkish Airlines to B and placed the company on CreditWatch negative over to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Turkish Airlines is one of eight European airlines S&P Global Ratings on Friday lowered its ratings on  by one notch, placing all of the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications.

“While Turkish Airlines is taking many measures to help mitigate the adverse impact of materially reduced passenger numbers, we believe this will still lead to significantly weaker credit metrics in 2020 than we had previously forecast,’’  the agency said.

21:44 - Municipality in central Turkey calls on residents to report curfew-breaking elderly

The municipality of Turkey’s central province of Nevşehir has called on residents to notify officials of the elderly who defy the newly announced partial curfew.

The municipality shared a hotline number on its official Twitter account, saying, “call if you see anyone aged 65 or over on the streets.’’ 

The call follows a curfew placed on the country’s 65 and over and chronically ill in a move to fight the spread of COVID-19.

19:25 - Turkey announces curfew for over 65, chronically ill

The Turkish Interior Ministry imposed on Saturay a partial curfew on people aged 65 and over to prevent the spread of a new strain of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) on the elderly populace, media website T24 reported.

Citizens aged 65 years and older, as well as those with chronic medical conditions, will be restricted from leaving their residences effective midnight, the ministry said.

Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş tweeted earlier Saturday he suspended the free use of transportation for the elderly in the capital.

“We took this precaution at the demands of your grandchildren. Dear elders, we love you and we want you to be safe,” Yavaş wrote.

19:50 - Ankara’s health workers to receive free public transportation

Health workers in capital Ankara will receive public transportation services free of charge as of Sunday, the city’s opposition mayor announced.

“Our nation will not forget your sacrifices,’’ Mansur Yavaş said on Twitter, praising them for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives if nine people in the country. 

19:30 - Turkey provides $ 10.9 million in aid to Northern Cyprus

Turkey has provided preliminary financial aid worth 72 million liras ($ 10.9 million) to the Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) amid the coronavirus pandemic, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said.

“As always, we will continue to be by the side of our fellow citizens of the TRNC during this period of struggle,” Oktay said on Twitter.

Turkey is the only country in the world to recognise the TRNC.

19:20 - Coronavirus victims will be buried in corpse bags, health ministry says

The Turkish Health Ministry listed a set of cautionary measures government institutions should carry out when handling the bodies of those who died of COVID-19, daily Evrensel reported on Saturday.

In the letter, the ministry advised on a series of precautionary measures government employees should be trained in to prevent the spread of infection, which includes contact procedures, the importance of personal hygiene and how to bury the deceased.

“In the event of the death of possible-definitive COVID-19 cases, burial with a body bag is required,” Evrensel said, citing the letter.

The document was sent to the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), the Interior and Justice ministries, as well as 81 provincial governors.

19:00 – EU countries denying visas to Turkish nationals

EU countries have stopped issuing visas to the citizens of a number of countries, including Turkey, in a bid to prevent the spread the deadly coronavirus, Sözcü newspaper reported.

Turkish citizens who applied for EU visas prior to the outbreak will not be refunded for their application fees, the newspaper said.

The fee for the Schengen visa application is 80 euros per adult.

18:55 -Montenegro receives 2,000 COVID-19 tests from Turkey, China

The government of Montenegro has thanked Turkey and China for donating a total of 2,000 COVID-19 tests.

“The whole world is fighting a vicious virus and friends stand by each other,’’ the government of Montenegro said in a statement it released on Twitter.

18:50 - Turkish Education Ministry bracing for possibility of schools remaining closed

Turkey’s Education Ministry is preparing for the possibility that schools may not open their doors for this academic year as the country’s COVID-19 cases rise and is preparing a distance learning programme, Evrensel newspaper reported.

“We are prepared for further delays in schools reopening. We have planned for shooting videos with teachers,’’ Education Minister  Ziya Selçuk said.

Turkish schools shut down on March 16 for two weeks.

Selçuk went on to say that no country was prepared for learning in all schools to be moved online, and Turkey would begin with learning via television before moving on to the Internet.

The minister also said he does not look favourably upon delaying examinations.

17:11 - Istanbul mayor urges residents to remain at home

The mayor of Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul has said people are flocking to outdoor locations, urging residents to remain at home. 

"I received a great deal of warnings today. There are people who have flocked to the Belgrad Forest  and other points [in the city]. This is entirely wrong. Don’t do this,’’ T24 news site quoted İmamoğlu as saying.

 "Sit on your balconies," the opposition mayor said.

Twitter users have shared images of locals gathered in the city's Belgrad Forest adjacent to Istanbul.

16:50 - Turkey preparing to release 15-minute COVID-19 test kit 

The Turkish Health Ministry has announced a new domestically produced testing kit for coronavirus, which will provide results in 15 minutes.

The kit follows the country’s current test, which allows for results for COVID-19 testing to be obtained within 60-90 minutes.

The kit was introduced in the virology lab of the Health Ministry, TRT news reported.

16:45 - Turkey to suspend flights to 46 new countries

Turkey’s Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure announced on Saturday that flights to 46 more countries will be suspended, bringing the total number to 68.

Meanwhile, 71 countries have stopped flights to Turkey, including Russia, Qatar and Libya, the ministry said.

The 68 countries are: Algeria, Angola, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, China, Colombia, Czechia, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger North Macedonia, Norway, Oman, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

16:20 - Turkish senior defies coronavirus measures, threatens public

A 75-year-old man, O.D., in Turkey’s northern Tokat province on Saturday pulled a knife in public after insulting reporters interviewing people on the streets.

O.D. attempted to stop the reporters asking people why they did not heed the government’s coronavirus advice to remain indoors and practice social distancing, and pulled his small pocket knife on a passer-by who intervened, İhlas news agency reported. O.D. was taken to a police station.

Meanwhile another 69-year-old man told reporters he went outside to avoid fighting with his wife. “I drink herbal teas, I take care of myself,” he said. “I go outside but I don’t go in crowds.”

Many of Turkey’s elderly have defied warnings and continued to gather in public squares and at mosques, particularly in Anatolia.

15:35 - Public transportation use in Istanbul drops by 64 pct

The use of public transportation in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul has decreased by 64 percent since the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in Turkey earlier this month.

On March 6, around 7.3 million people in the city of some 16 million used public transportation, while this figure dropped to 2. 2 million on March 20, Istanbul Municipality Spokesman Murat Ongun said in a chart he shared on Twitter.

15:25 - Members of Turkey’s Fenerbahçe basketball team test positive for coronavirus

Some players and administrative staff from the Fenerbahçe Beko men’s basketball team have tested positive for the COVID-19, the team announced on Saturday.

Team members were transferred to hospitals for testing after doctors noticed symptoms during routine check-ups, the statement said.

15:15 - Turkey’s Interior Ministry extends coronavirus bans

The Turkish Interior Ministry on Saturday announced new measures as part of the country’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The new measures include a ban on traditional celebrations for soldier send-offs, following large crowds seen on Friday evening in major bus stations.

Barber shops, hairdressers and beauty salons will also be closed as of this evening, the ministry announced.

14:50 - Turkey bans picnics and barbecues in public spaces

Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry announced on Saturday that picnics and barbecues in public gardens, parks and recreation spots have been banned as part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The ban came after many people gathered in public spaces for picnics on Friday and Saturday, despite Turkey’s calls for social distancing.

14:45 - Authorities disinfect tourist-favourite Sultanahmet Square

Istanbul's Fatih District Municipality on Saturday disinfected all of the Sultanahmet Square, where the historic Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are located. 

14:00 - Three Turkish nationals die of coronavirus in Netherlands

A Turkish man aged 82 and two Turkish women, aged 70 and 66, have lost their lives due to the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Netherlands, state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Turkish Ambassador to the Netherlands Şaban Dişli as saying.

There are five more Turkish nationals in intensive care in the country.

The three senior citizens will be buried in Muslim cemeteries in the Netherlands as the bodies were unable to be transported to Turkey due to coronavirus measures imposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

13:50 - Turkey’s Saturday Mothers suspend decade-long protest over coronavirus

The Saturday Mothers, a civil disobedience group against forced disapperances and impunity in Turkey, have decided to suspend their weekly demonstrations in Istanbul due to concerns over the rapidly-spreading COVID-19 coronavirus.

The group will continue the protest online to demand information on the fate of some 17,000 people who disappeared in custody in Turkey since the 1980s.

As part of the press statement for their 782nd weekly demonstration, the Saturday Mothers and Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) called for non-commercialised, high-quality and just healthcare.

12:50 - Turkey to repatriate students stuck abroad

Turkey will repatriate students who were stranded in foreign countries following the suspension of flights with 20 countries, Vice President Fuat Oktay announced.

The ministries of foreign affairs, health and transportation will coordinate with Turkish Airlines to bring back Turkish students from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the  United Arab Emirates if they appeal to Turkey’s embassies and consulates by 17:00 today.

Students will be quarantined for 14 days upon their return.

12:25 - Port workers in Istanbul go on strike to protest lack of coronavirus measures

Workers in Istanbul’s Galataport, a project still under construction in the harbour area of the historic Karaköy district, have gone on strike, saying no preventative measures against the coronavirus have been implemented in the construction site.

Forty workers have stopped working, following a week of urging the project’s owner Doğuş Group to take precautions, construction workers’ union İnşaat-İş announced.

Turkish labour laws allow for workers to refuse to work in unsafe environments under certain circumstances. A lack of precautions against the coronavirus would qualify workers to rightful termination, according to workplace safety experts at İnşaat-İş

11:30 - Turkey allows for emergency appointment of resident doctors outside their clinics

The Turkish Ministry of Health on Saturday has issued new bylaws for medical residencies to allow for resident doctors and assistants to be appointed to any clinic outside of their own in case of extraordinary circumstances.

The addition to bylaws as published in Turkey’s Official Gazette reads:

“Under extraordinary circumstances where normal services cannot be sustained, such as earthquakes, floods, or pandemics, residency students may be appointed to medical facilities outside of their educational institutions in the same province to exercise their duty as doctors for no longer than three months.”

The new measure will allow for doctors of various specialties to assist in Turkey’s efforts to control the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

10:35 - Rate of new coronavirus diagnoses in Turkey surpasses Spain - analysis

The rate of daily diagnoses of the COVID-19 coronavirus since the outbreak began in Turkey has surpassed that of Spain, the second-worst affected country in Europe, a study by Turkish popular science organisation Tree of Evolution found.

On the tenth day of the outbreak for each country, Spain had diagnosed 200 new cases while Turkey diagnosed 359. 

The steeper rise seen in Turkey is partly due to increased testing.