Turkey is resisting implementing tough measures to combat Covid-19 despite fears that a second wave of the coronavirus is taking hold in the country and as several European states declare new lockdowns.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced on Tuesday that restaurants, bars, hairdressers, barbers, cinemas and all other similar entertainment venues and businesses across Turkey would have to close at 10pm. Flexible working hours across both the private and public sectors were encouraged, he added, and mosques and schools would remain open for now.
Turkey’s total numbers of cases and deaths are still much lower than those of several European countries, but the number of cases is increasing at a rate of more than 2,000 a day – the highest level since the first wave of the pandemic hit Turkey in April.
Doctors and opposition politicians have alleged for months that Turkey’s caseload is in fact much higher. They have asked the government to do more to curb the spread of the virus and accused the authorities of a cover-up – a charge Ankara denies.
An admission from the health minister, Fahrettin Koca, in September that the country was excluding symptomless cases from its daily tally drew widespread fury from opposition campaigners, who claimed Ankara was prioritising the struggling economy over public health.
The new measures announced on Tuesday were criticised by Turkish healthcare workers’ and doctors’ unions as not going far enough.
“Healthcare workers are the only ones really tackling the problems of the pandemic at the moment. We should be supported with thorough policymaking to fight it, but instead we are the ones who are burning out,” said Lutfi Çamlı, the head of the İzmir chamber of physicians.
“It’s hard to even comment on these new measures because we are not even aware of what the real situation is, we can’t get the information from the government. If they were transparent it would be different.”
More than 100 healthcare workers have died and 40,000 have been infected with Covid-19 in Turkey since the beginning of the crisis, leading to several protests over working conditions and a lack of protective equipment.
The Turkish Medical Association has been criticised by Erdoğan’s coalition partner, Devlet Bahçeli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who has accused doctors of “treason” and said the association should be closed down.
Wearing masks in public and in workspaces is compulsory, and some parts of the country have been subject to localised lockdowns and curfews for over-65s since measures banning all intercity and international travel were lifted in July.
Although the Turkish authorities have not publicly suggested reimplementing travel restrictions, on Tuesday Koca urged people in Istanbul not to leave the area, saying the city of 17 million people accounted for 40% of Turkey’s Covid-19 cases.
“If you are in Istanbul. Do not leave [the city]. You could be a spreader without symptoms, you could be an undetected contact. Unless it is necessary, delay your trip,” he tweeted.
Last week’s earthquake that hit İzmir has left hospitals bracing for a rise in cases, after many of the city’s 3 million residents abandoned social distancing measures in the aftermath. A total of 114 people have been confirmed dead and more than 1,000 were injured in the quake, putting extra strain on intensive care units and medical resources across the country.