Turkey’s official COVID-19 death toll almost hits 2,000 as second weekend curfew in effect - live blog

Turkey’s official pandemic death toll has risen to 1,890 in the past 24 hours, according to the latest figures announced by Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Saturday.

Since Friday evening, Turkey recorded 121 new deaths linked to COVID-19 and 3,783 new cases, bringing its total number of cases to 82,329.

Koca sought for a positive point in the data, saying the total number of recoveries have reached 10,453.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Interior Ministry has opened an investigation into COVID-19 aid campaigns run by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused municipalities run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) of attempting to form a parallel state by launching charity drives.

“The Interior Minister launched a probe into the process of collecting donations. An inspector is carrying out the investigation,” İmamoğlu told Sözcü newspaper on April 17. He said that an investigation had been opened on April 10 and that a similar investigation had been opened against Yavaş in Ankara.

“You can launch investigations, but blocking money that belongs to the citizens is a pitiful and miserable attitude. Whoever ordered this is also a part of this misery,” İmamoğlu said.

Meanwhile, 31 provinces – including major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara – have gone into a second consecutive weekend curfew. 

On Friday morning, the Interior Ministry announced that it was sending police to busy shopping places, petrol stations and transport stops in large cities to ensure that social distancing guidelines were followed between 3 p.m. and midnight, when the 48-hour lockdown started. 

Shopping districts still saw densely packed queues in many provinces, making it difficult to follow social distancing guidelines, albeit less severely than the week before.

Residents of the southern Adana province went out for one last kebab, local media reported.

(All times local Turkish time, GMT+3)

22:40 - Obtaining protective gear, training among problems facing healthcare workers – survey

A survey conducted by the Ankara Chamber of Medicine revealed Turkish healthcare workers are experiencing difficulty in acquiring protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 499 private healthcare workers surveyed, 39 percent said there was a problem of inadequate protective gear available for employees, Birgün newspaper said.

Another 32 percent said fellow workers had tested positive for the virus in their workplace, while 51 percent said they never received training on how the virus is spread.

FouArty-eight percent said they had issues with their salaries and compensatory payments during the outbreak.


22:15 - Interior Ministry extends access ban in 31 provinces

Turkey’s Interior Ministry has extended entry and exit restrictions in 31 Turkish provinces, one of many limitations on mobility to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.

The current restrictions, which end at midnight on Saturday, in 30 major provinces and the northern province of Zonguldak, will be extended for another 15 days, it said, citing a ministry circular confining residents to their areas until further notice.

Access will only be allowed under exceptional circumstances and through a special permit, Cumhuriyet said.


22:00 - Over 340 Turkish nationals abroad died due to coronavirus, foreign minister says

The number of Turkish nationals who have died abroad after contracting the deadly COVID-19 has increased to 342, close to one fifth of the domestic death toll, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkey is planning “105 more flights (for Turkish nationals) from 72 countries. We plan to bring our citizens to our country before the beginning of Ramadan,‘’ T24 quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying, in a reference to Islamic holy month set to begin in Turkey on Friday.

State-run Anadolu news agency has announced that interior ministry plans to repatriate 25,000 nationals over the next week.

19:00 - Turkish authorities penalise over 9,000 in pre-weekend curfew controls

Turkish authorities penalised over 9,000 people throughout the country for violating pandemic regulations in pre-weekend lockdown inspections, Diken reported. 

A total of 51,170 Interior Ministry officials conducted the inspections between 3 p.m. and midnight, handing out citations for violations such as exceeding past government-specified work hours and failing to follow social distancing rules, the news site said.

Meanwhile, 14 wanted suspects were detained during I.D. checks.

19:15 - Children's presidential gift packages prepared without COVID-19 measures - CHP deputy chairman

Presidential gift packages distributed to students on the occasion of  national Children’s Day are prepared without applying protective COVID-19 measures, said Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman Yıldırım Kaya.

According to information given by principals, gift packages organised in schools for the upcoming national holiday on April 23 were also delivered by employees without a mask or gloves to pupils’ homes, Cumhuriyet quoted Kaya as saying.

“[The delivery teams] infect each other and their families with the coronavirus,” he said. “They also spread the virus to the people they come into contact with or get it through the gift packages they distribute.”

18:40 - Health Ministry launches COVID-19 pandemic app

The Turkish Health Ministry has launched a free app, which allows for users to monitor high-risk areas for COVID-19 in the country and obtain information on the pandemic.

The app, available for downloading on Google Play and the App Store, also shows locations for hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and public transportation lines, T24 said.

18:30 - Interior Ministry bans southern municipality from distributing free bread

The Interior Ministry has banned the opposition municipality of the southern province of Mersin from distributing free bread to families during the pandemic.

The municipality will instead provide bread to homes during the weekend curfew for a small fee, Mersin Mayor Vahap Seçer said on Twitter.

16:50 -  SMS code delays, shortage of supplies hindering mask distribution – pharmacies

A large number of people urgently in need of facial masks are unable to receive them from pharmacies due to not receiving an SMS code from the government, pharmacies told BBC Turkish.

The lack of masks in stock also leads some pharmacies to turn citizens away empty-handed, it said.

The Turkish government has banned the sale of the masks during the coronavirus pandemic, tasking pharmacies with distributing masks free of charge. However, complaints are piling in that the SMS message from the Health Ministry, a requirement to pick up the protective gear, is not arriving.


16:40- Ruling AKP rival DEVA rolls out pandemic financial measures package

Former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan’s new Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) has unveiled a 13-item pandemic financial measures package, Karar newspaper reported.

The package proposed by DEVA calls for flexibility in eligibility for unemployment pay during the pandemic, the elimination of bureaucratic steps in assisting small and medium-sized businesses through loans, a delay of tax payments, and an extension of deadlines on outstanding electricity, water and natural gas bills, among others.  

breakaway from the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), Babacan launched DEVA in March after resigning last year from the AKP, citing differences over the state of democracy, the rule of law and foreign policy.

AFP, Ali Babacan (centre)
AFP, Leader of DEVA, Ali Babacan (centre)

16:20 - Turkish lawmakers to be tested for COVID-19

Turkish lawmakers have demanded to be tested for COVID-19 after a laboratory technician and another worker in the Turkish parliamentary hospital tested positive, daily Cumhuriyet reported.

Earlier in March, a doctor in the same hospital had tested positive for the coronavirus, and several parliament workers had been quarantined upon suspicion of contact.

Parliament continued to convene after the diagnosis, working on an amnesty bill, amendments to the law on higher education, pandemic measures and a financial support package, among others.

Lawmakers will be tested first while testing for the rest of their staff will begin at a later time, Cumhuriyet said.

16:00 - Istanbul’s homeless remain on streets despite curfew

Istanbul’s homeless population remain on the streets despite a two-day lockdown, which has emptied the streets of Turkey’s megacity, daily Birgün reported.

The city’s homeless have congregated in an underpass, as hundreds of police officers are stationed mere metres above them in the Taksim Square, the city’s most central area.

Municipalities in the city have provided additional shelters during the pandemic, with the metropolitan municipality reporting services delivered to 2,964 people in February, but some residents remain on the streets, laying on cardboard boxes.

15:00 - Zonguldak governor says healthcare workers to blame for high contagion numbers

The mayor of Turkey’s northern Zonguldak province, one of the 31 under weekend lockdown, has blamed healthcare officials for the number of COVID-19 cases in the province.

Of the total 567 coronavirus cases in the province, 137 are healthcare workers,  Erdoğan Bektaş said.

"Our healthcare workers did not protect themselves. They protected themselves in their interactions with patients, but not with each other. And this has come at a heavy cost for us," T24 news site quoted Bektaş as saying.

The country's top medical association, the Turkish Medical Association, earlier this week said Turkish healthcare workers were being infected with the novel coronavirus due to the lack of provision of correct protective equipment.

14:25 - Governorate halts municipal aid distribution in Muğla

The governorate of Muğla, a popular vacation spot in southwestern Turkey, has ordered the province’s metropolitan municipality to stop distributing packages of food and sanitary products, citing the two-day curfew that went into effect at midnight.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Turkey, the Muğla municipality, ran by main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Osman Gürün since 1999, had started to distribute aid packages to low-income families and residents who lost their livelihoods.

Distribution will continue after the lockdown ends at midnight on Sunday, Mayor Gürün said in a tweet.  

12:00 - Prices hiked in Izmir’s markets ahead of curfew

The prices of fruit and vegetables were significantly hiked in open air markets ahead of the weekend curfew in the western Izmir province, local media reported.

The price of some fruits, such as bananas, had roughly doubled, Faysal Acar, the Chairman of the Izmir Markets Association, said.

Acar blamed the price hike on opportunism among middlemen that purchase the produce from farmers and sell to traders. He said market traders only sell products they have bought at a maximum profit margin of 10 to 15 percent. He also called on the state to clamp down on middlemen selling produce on the black market.

11:30 - Turkish Airlines to repatriate Turkish citizens from three U.S. cities

Turkish Airlines will repatriate stranded Turkish citizens from three cities in the United States next week. Flights will leave from Washington D.C. and Los Angeles on April 23, and from New York on April 24, Anadolu news agency said.

Those who have symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 coronavirus on the day of the flight and those who have been diagnosed with the virus will not be admitted to the aircraft. Passengers will have to enter a 14-day quarantine on arrival to Turkey.

Meanwhile, 310 Turkish citizens have been repatriated to Turkey from Ukraine, and placed under quarantine in a student dormitory, said Anadolu.

On Friday, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that 25,000 Turks had already been brought home during the pandemic, and that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had given the order to bring back the same number again from 59 countries in time for Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting that starts this year on April 24.

10:45 - Police checkpoints under COVID-19 curfew create long lines on highways

Vehicles on the highways of Turkey’s northwestern industrial province of Izmit, neighbouring Istanbul, formed long lines as they waited to pass through police checkpoints.

Security forces are checking every vehicle on the highways and on the province’s major roads to confirm that passengers are among those exempted from the weekend curfew. Pedestrians on the streets are also being stopped, and those found in violation of the curfew are issued fines.

10:15 - Public transport during curfew lacking for essential workers

Workers in essential sectors exempted from the weekend curfew in 31 Turkish provinces, including healthcare professionals, essential public servants and members of security forces, have reported difficulties getting to their workplaces as public transportation services have been drastically reduced.

One medical secretary who works in an Istanbul laboratory told Demirören News Agency that she had waited for 50 minutes for a bus. “I’ve been standing here for 50 minutes, I’m tired already,” she said. A nurse said two buses passed without stopping, as they had reached the passenger limit, while a security guard chose to walk to work.

09:30 - Turkey starts second partial weekend curfew

The second weekend curfew ordered by Turkey’s Interior Ministry went into effect at midnight on Friday and covers 30 major provinces and the northern Zonguldak province, as was the case last weekend.

Zonguldak is included in the curfew due to the high number of pulmonary disease due to the province’s coal mining industry.

Some essential services and businesses continue to operate, and residents of the 31 provinces will be able to buy bread, water, propane gas, newspapers and medicine. Supermarkets remain closed.

Postal, healthcare and emergency workers and members of security forces are exempt from the curfew, as well as bodies such as the Turkish Red Crescent and the government’s Vefa Social Support Units.

00:15 - Maritime access partially prohibited in Istanbul, governor announces

Maritime access to Istanbul will be restricted for as long as the pandemic continues, governor Ali Yerlikaya announced on social media.

Effective at midnight, domestic and international commercial freight and passenger transportation are allowed to transit through the city, Yerlikaya tweeted, but the boats will not be allowed to make any stops, apart from mandatory rest periods.


📌Yurt içinde ticari yük/yolcu taşımacılığı yapanlar ile uluslararası yük taşımacılığı yapanların İlimizden transit şekilde geçişlerine müsaade edilecek ancak zorunlu dinlenme molaları/süreleri hariç hiçbir şekilde duraklama ya da konaklama yapmayacaktır. pic.twitter.com/MVnCwKhUX3

— Ali Yerlikaya (@AliYerlikaya) April 17, 2020

23:45 - Izmir prison guards test positive for COVID-19

Several prison officers from the Şakran Prison in the western Izmir province have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, after they were placed in a state-run dormitory as part of Turkey's measures to curb the spread of the virus, Republican People's Party (CHP) Izmir deputy Atilla Sertel said.

Some 400 prison guards need to be tested, Sertel said. "An outbreak should urgently be prevented. Prison guards are waiting for attention from the Health Ministry."

Buca kız yurdunda kalma zorunda bırakılan Yeni Şakran T Tipi infaz koruma memurları arasında Corana virüs vakalarına rastlandı.
400 civarında memura mutlaka test uygulaması yapılmalı ve salgının önüne acilen geçilmelidir.
İnfaz koruma memurları Sağlık Bakanlığı’ndan ilgi bekliyor

— 🇹🇷 Atila Sertel (@AtillaSertell) April 17, 2020

23:30 - Istanbul municipality loses 1.25 billion lira in monthly revenue

Turkey’s measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic and cuts to municipal budget payments from the central government have resulted in the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality losing 1.25 billion lira ($180 million) in monthly revenue, Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu said.

Unlike other countries, the government has not announced support packages for municipalities, Cumhuriyet quoted İmamoğlu as saying.

“Despite this fact, we will continue our policies to contribute to our people with our existing facilities, to give them breathing room, so families do not go hungry in their homes,” İmamoğlu said. “We will never give up on these policies.”

The second half of 2020 will be spent trying to recover from the economic blowback caused by the pandemic, the mayor said, and many services need to be re-thought, such as what new precautions to apply for public transportation.