On Thursday, Turkey entered its first full lockdown, with the authorities ordering the closure of all businesses unless they have an exemption from the Ministry of Interior.
Since the outbreak of the global pandemic last February, Turkey had managed to avoid a total lockdown, instead imposing regional measures to contain the deadly disease.
The health authorities were applauded for their handling of the first wave, which saw the country quickly shut its borders to the outside world after the first cases were recorded in March.
The second wave was less successful, with Health Minister Fahrettin Koca heavily criticised for publishing deliberating misleading data about new infections, switching from all announcing all new daily cases of Covid-19 to just the number of patients who were showing symptoms.
With more contagious mutant variations striking across the world since the end of last year, it was only a matter of time before they also wreaked havoc in Turkey.
Variants were detected among the 83 million population earlier this year, and the number of cases has steadily risen ever since, hitting record highs of 60,000 new cases a day earlier this month.
The surge in infections put Turkey at the highest level of Covid cases in Europe, leaving the government with little choice but to put the country on full lockdown.
The measures, which include the closure of all but essential businesses, a ban on intercity travel and the transfer of all education online, will last until 17 May. A ban on alcohol sales has also been imposed for the same period.
While that will harm the Turkish economy and particularly low earners and the jobless in the short term, Turkey hopes to bring its infection levels down to 5,000 a day, while inoculating a greater percentage of the population ahead of this summer’s tourism season.
Turkey’s inflation is currently running at 15%, while youth unemployment is at 25%. The Turkish lira has struggled on and off even before the pandemic, regularly sliding against foreign currencies principally due to political concerns and Turkish fiscal policies.
In 2019, Turkey ranked sixth in the world in terms of the number of international tourist arrivals, with an estimated 50 million foreign tourists visiting the country. The sector employs nearly 8% of the country’s entire workforce and generates up to 12% of Turkey’s total revenue.
Visitor numbers plummeted by some 72% in the first 11 months of 2020, according to Reuters. At the start of 2021, officials were hoping for half the number of tourists they had received in 2019.
“We need to reach a target of 25-30 million in 2021. 2021 is the year of crawling and standing up. 2022-2023 will be the year of running,” said Turkey Hoteliers Federation (TUROFED) Chairman Sururi Çorabatır.
Main image, top, of Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, 4 Feb. 2021. Photo © Twitter / T.C. Sağlık Bakanlığı