Turkish lira hits 18-month low as coronavirus death rates accelerate

Turkey’s lira plumbed the lowest levels since a currency crisis erupted in the summer of 2018 as official data showed daily death tolls and infections from the coronavirus accelerating rapidly.

The lira was down 0.4 percent at 6.639 per dollar during lunchtime trading in Istanbul, taking losses this year to about 10 percent.

The Turkish central bank announced quantitative easing measures on Tuesday to help stabilise financial markets and to inject capital into banks, which are being asked by the government to ramp up lending to companies. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this week that the wheels of the economy must keep turning, even as his government announced tighter measures to increase social distancing and self-quarantining.

The Health Ministry said on Tuesday that cases of the coronavirus rose by 2,704 in one day to 13,531, while deaths increased by 46 to 214. The number of infections in Turkey is increasing rapidly and trails only Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Switzerland in the European region, despite the government announcing the first infection on March 11, several weeks later than other nations.

Left-wing news website HaberSOL reported this week that some Turkish firms were failing to ensure adequate distancing between workers, while company buses and cafeterias were overcrowded. Businesses were measuring the body temperatures of workers and sending people home who displayed signs of fever, it said.

Erdoğan is under growing pressure to urgently impose a full nationwide lockdown as Turkey struggles with one of the world’s fasting growing outbreaks.

“I don’t even want to think, God help us, about the way that this pandemic might spread because of those people who are still outside,” Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition mayor of Istanbul, told Turkey’s Fox News channel on Monday, urging the government to impose sweeping curbs.

The International Monetary Fund said this week that Turkey and Russia were among the outliers in emerging markets who have not applied for emergency funding to help stabilise their economies. Developing nations would struggle due to their small banking systems and shallow financial markets, Poul Thomsen, director of the IMF’s European Department, said in a statement on Monday.