Turkey bans alcohol sales after COVID-19 restrictions tightened

Turkey has banned the sale of alcohol nationwide after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a tight 17-day lockdown on the population, local media reported.

Sales will be outlawed in all retail outlets, the NTV news channel said, citing official sources. The government did not announce the measure publicly, creating confusion on social media.

Some Twitter users reacted with fury and disbelief. The tag #alkolümedokunma (don’t touch my alcohol) was the top trending item for Turkey as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Banning alcohol sales shows us that they are slowly infringing on our lifestyles,” said Hüseyin Çalışkaner, owner of Istanbul-based research company Artıbir Araştırma. “Banning alcohol is completely ideological. If we don’t speak out against it, they will interfere with other areas of our lives.”

Erdoğan is a vocal opponent of alcohol and tobacco consumption. His government has regularly raised taxes on the products at far above the rate of inflation since it came to power in 2002. Erdoğan’s popularity has suffered since elections in 2018, when he gained vast new executive powers and a currency crisis hit the economy. His Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now opposed by almost two-thirds of voters, according to opinion polls.

Erdoğan announced what he termed a nationwide "full closure" of the population on Monday after daily cases of COVID-19 spiked to record highs last week.

All businesses, except manufacturers and food companies, will shut from April 29 until May 17, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends, Erdoğan said. Intercity travel will be banned unless people have special permits. Foreign tourists will be exempt from the measures, the government said.  

"In order for this process to produce the results we are aiming for, the rules will be applied on the strictest terms, with absolutely no concessions,'’ Erdoğan said after a cabinet meeting on Monday. The country would resume normal life following the religious holiday Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, he said.

Infections from COVID-19 in Turkey soared to more than 60,000 per day last week after the government eased lockdown measures at the start of March, only to reimpose many of them this month. On Monday, daily cases totalled 37,312.

All schools will also close and examinations have been cancelled, Erdoğan said. Supermarket chains will remain shut on Sundays and operate under limited hours on other days. 

Turkey was already under pandemic restrictions that included weekday curfews from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. prior to Monday’s announcement.