Turkey’s death toll hits 649 as Erdoğan announces pandemic hospitals in Istanbul - live blog

Turkey on Monday confirmed 75 new deaths due to the novel coronavirus, bringing the number of people who have died due to COVID-19 in the country to 649.

A total of 21,400 tests were administered in the last 24 hours, which saw 3,148 diagnosed with the virus, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in his daily update on Twitter.

Turkey is preparing to push its daily testing up to 30,000, Koca said, noting the significant increase in those who had recovered from the virus, a total 1,326 people.

Meanwhile, 1,415 people remain in intensive care after contracting COVID-19, the Health Ministry said.

The new figures arrived as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a televised speech said Turkey had mobilised all its resources to fight the outbreak. The Turkish president announced that two hospitals each with a capacity of up to 1,000 beds, were to be build in Istanbul to treat coronavirus patients. Their construction would be complete in 45 days, he added.

Earlier on Monday, Koca held a videoconference with Istanbul health officials and senior doctors on Monday to address the impact of COVID-19 on Turkey’s largest city, where the majority of coronavirus patients are concentrated.

Koca tweeted that he and the doctors discussed patient conditions, intensive care occupancy rates and treatment protocols. The minister had expressed concern about the pace the infection was spreading in Istanbul, where he said one patient could pass the virus on to as many as 16 others.

As of Sunday, Turkey has recorded 27,069 cases and 574 deaths of patients with the coronavirus since the first infection was diagnosed on March 11, and last week Istanbul was estimated to account for around 60 percent of the country’s cases. Medical experts say the city has proven to be vulnerable to the pandemic, but the transmission rate is closer to three people per infection.

Turkey has ramped up measures to combat the virus, and Koca said more than 20,000 tests were taken on Sunday. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan imposed curfews on elderly and vulnerable people near the start of the crisis, and last week also told people under 20-years-old to stay at home.

But the government has resisted calls for the full-scale lockdown and support for workers who need to stay at home demanded by opposition politicians, led vocally by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.

(Times Turkish time GMT+3)

00:30 - First Turkish MP hosptalised due to coronavirus

Feti Yıldız, lawmaker and deputy chairman of the National Movement Party (MHP), announced that he was being hospitalised due to the COVID-19 coronavirus on Monday night.

“I am being hospitalised because of the COVID-19 virus. Keep praying. May Allah keep you,” the lawmaker said in a tweet.

Not having previously disclosed his status, Yıldız had two weeks ago attended parliamentary discussions for the prison reform bill proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but has not been participating in parliamentary sessions in the last week, according to BBC Turkish.

00:25 - Mayor of popular tourist town calls for lockdown due to increased COVID-19 deaths

Seven people have lost their lives after contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus said Ahmet Aras, the mayor of Turkey’s southwestern tourist town Bodrum, while calling for a lockdown.

Population has almost doubled from the usual winter levels of 175,000 in the last three weeks, Aras said, as people from big cities who have vacation homes in Bodrum have flocked to the town hoping to avoid contagion in crowds.

Preventative measures fall short in the face of the surge in arrivals, Aras said. The mayor had previously warned vacationers that medical facilities in the town, or its host province of Muğla, were only equipped to serve its small population.

00:20 - Governor bans travel between districts of Turkey’s major coal mining province

Governor of Turkey’s Black Sea province of Zonguldak, Erdoğan Bektaş, announced a 14-day ban on travel between districts as part of the country’s efforts against COVID-19, Hürriyet newspaper reported.

The ban is an extension of the travel ban placed on 30 major cities and Zonguldak, which hosts many coal mines and has a high rate of pulmonary disease among its residents.

“We have a higher sensibility for Zonguldak, especially due to the pulmonary issues because of the mines,” Bektaş told reporters. “This is not a highly deadly virus, but such factors create trouble.”

“The death rate seems high here for now. God willing, it won’t continue this way,” he said.

22:05 - Coronavirus committee expands, second committee underway

Seven professors have been added to the Turkish committee charged with advising the government on COVID-19 while the Health Ministry is working on a second committee that will be announced within days, Diken news site reported.

The new additions to the committee include professors of public health in several of Turkey’s faculties of medicine, as well as theologian Mustafa Öztürk, and come after infectious disease and clinical microbiology expert Serhat Ünal tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

Fahrettin Koca had announced plans for a second committee on Friday, to focus more on the psychological, sociological and religious aspects of dealing with the pandemic, and on Sunday Türk Diyanet Vakıf-Sen, the union for workers in Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, said the religious body should be included in the science committee.

21:50 Istanbul medical chamber says Turkey's COVID-19 measures inadequate

Istanbul's Chamber of Medical Doctors (İTO) has said that Turkey's measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are not sufficient and urged for medical response teams to be provided with adequate protective gear.

Healthcare workers should be regularly tested for COVID-19 and granted job security, İTO said.

The organisation also called for increased transparency in pandemic statistic from the Health Ministry, including a regular province-by-province breakdown of numbers.

21:22 - Over 60 Turkish workers stranded in Iraq amid pandemic

A total of 63 Turkish workers have been living on a construction site after their company failed to notify Turkish officials to facilitate their return home, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

The workers have been at the construction site of a mall in Baghdad’s Waziriyah region for 25 days, the newspaper said.

The workers have said none of the workers have coronavirus symptoms, it added.

Turkey last week flew in from Iraq 334 Turkish nationals working as labourers in the neighbouring country. 

18:45 - Four buildings under quarantine in Istanbul’s Bağcılar district

Four buildings in Istanbul’s Bağcılar district have been placed under quarantine due to COVID-19 cases among residents, Sözcü newspaper reported. 

The decision by the district governor’s office follows positive test results for deadly virus among residents in the buildings located in the neighbourhoods of Çınar, Kirazlı and Kazım Karabekir, Sözcü said. 

Istanbul accounts for 60 percent of Turkey’s coronavirus cases, which now number over 27,000.

18:20 – Turkish parliament's centenary reception cancelled after three COVID-19 cases

Turkish parliament has cancelled an April 23 National Sovereignty and Children's Day ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of its inauguration, after three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the general assembly, parliament speaker Mustafa Şentop said. 

The upcoming national holiday, along with all events which would not comply with coronavirus measures have been suspended, Şentop said, calling for at-home celebrations instead.

Last week, a doctor from the parliamentary hospital tested positive for COVID-19.

17:40 - Turkish gov’t pandemic measures failing Turkey’s labourers - top union

Turkish labourers continue to be put at risk as government measures for the coronavirus pandemic fail to protect them, Arzu Çerkezoğlu, the chair of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) said.

Labourers who test positive for COVID-19 are sent back to their hometowns with no precautionary measures and their diagnosis is kept a secret from co-workers, T24 news site quoted Çerkezoğlu as saying. 

"Construction work is ongoing. In the last 15 days alone, 15,000 workers have been dismissed from their jobs," the union chair said, highlighting the inability of workers to remain at home during the outbreak without facing the termination of their jobs.

Many workplaces have been shut down in Turkey with full pay for all workers, however a large number of labourers, including construction and assembly line workers, have continued work.

15:58 - Turkey investigating 750 people for violating coronavirus measures

Turkish prosecutors have launched investigations against 750 people in 66 provinces 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.

A total of 568 people have been charged over misleading social media posts and news, eight over offending the elderly, 85 over non-compliance with quarantine rules and 89 with stockpiling, Turkey's Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said.

14:40 - Istanbul Municipality to increase its social aid budget during outbreak

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu said the municipality had decided to increase the social aid budget from 374 million lira to 775 million lira to help low-income residents of the city during the coronavirus outbreak.

"We also prepare for an extraordinary council meeting to meet the need for an even higher budget. Since the social aid budget cannot exceed 3 percent of the overall budget according to the law, we will request authorisation from our councillors," Imamoğlu said in a video shared on Twitter.

14:13 - Legendary Turkish goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber discharged from hospital

Turkish football legend Rüştü Reçber has recovered from the coronavirus and been discharged from hospital, Cumhuriyet reported.

Reçber, who made 124 international appearances as goalkeeper for the Turkish national team, was hospitalised on March 28 after tested positive for COVID-19.

13:35 - State-run Vakıfbank postpones debt repayments

The head of state-run Vakıfbank, Abdi Serdar Üstünsalih, said the bank had approved delays to debt repayments to help soften the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, Anadolu news agency reported.

"We have postponed 305 million lira credit card debts of 65,000 retail and commercial customers so far," Üstünsalih said.

12:56 - Public transport use in Istanbul drops by more than 90 pct
The use of public transport in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, has decreased by more than 90 percent compared to pre-coronavirus outbreak levels, Istanbul Municipality Spokesman Murat Ongun said in a chart he shared on Twitter.

On March 8, around 4.8 million people in the city of some 16 million used public transport, but this figure dropped to just over 382,000 on April 5, Ongun said.

11:25 – Police report surge in domestic violence callouts in Istanbul

The number of calls received by police in Istanbul in March alleging domestic violence has surged by nearly 40 percent compared to last year to reach 2,493, Diken reported.

The 38-percent rise came in a month when residents of the city were ordered to stay at home except on essential business due to the coronavirus pandemic.

11:05 – Turkish firm producing chloroquine phosphate for COVID-19 treatment

A Turkish firm, Abdi İbrahim, is lined up to produce 160,000 boxes of the anti-malaria drug chloroquine phosphate, which has been touted as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, Diken reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump highlighted the drug’s potential as a treatment for coronavirus patients after reports said that it had been used successfully in trial treatments and in the laboratory, though there is not yet a scientific consensus on its efficacy.

Graph on chloroquine
Graphic on chloroquine and its variant, hydroxychloroquine, currently being tested alongside other medicines in several countries against COVID-19. - AFP

11:00 - Turkey to minimise troop movements in Syria citing virus concern

The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Sunday it would minimise its troop movements in Syria as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"A regulation that allows our troops to enter and exit operation areas in Syria only with the permission of the army commander is prepared, thus the movement of staff and troops is minimised, unless it is mandatory," a ministry spokesman told a press conference.

10:40 – Turkey switches medical mask applications to e-Devlet site

The Turkish government has switched its application service for free medical masks from the post office website to the state’s e-Devlet portal due to the heavy volume of traffic.

The government announced last week that it would distribute masks free of charge to all citizens between 20 and 65 years old. People under 20 and over 65 have been ordered to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

23:05 - Harvard doctor questions higher-than-usual coronavirus deaths among younger Turks

Coronavirus-related deaths among Turkey’s population under the age of 60 are higher than other countries hit by the pandemic, a Harvard medical professor said.

Twenty percent of the first 356 deaths in Turkey were under the age of 60, said Harvard medical faculty member Emrah Altındiş, speaking to leftist television channel Artı TV.

“Why is are the younger people more affected in Turkey? Why are 20 percent of [coronavirus-related] deaths seen in young people?” Altındiş asked, afterwards answering his own question: the reason is “Turkish society is unhealthy”.

"Five million people in Turkey have hypertension, 11 million people have diabetes. Cigarette consumption, poverty, and poor nutrition is common. The number of doctors per capita and the budget allocated to health are below those of EU countries,” he said.

22:40 - State broadcaster cuts off expert who says Turkey’s cases are in hundred thousands

Turkey’s true number of COVID-19 cases is far higher than the official count, an infectious diseases specialist said on a TRT broadcast, moments before being cut off by the program’s moderator.

There are approximately 600,000 to 900,000 total cases in the country, said Dr. Meltem Özen, during a televised talk between medical experts on Sunday.

Shortly after, Özen was interrupted by the program moderator, Fatih Çimen, who prompted another guest to speak, in footage tweeted by Dokuz8 Haber.

22:10 - Nearly 40 percent of Turkey’s population is under curfew, fact-checking platform says

Nearly 40 percent of Turkey’s total population has been banned from leaving their homes as of April 3, following curfews on the elderly and young by the Turkish government to stave off the coronavirus pandemic, said fact-checking platform Doğruluk Payı.

This restricted population, between 0-20 and over 65 years of age, comprises about 33.1 million people, it said.