Hard-hit Turkey’s easing of lockdown criticized

Hard-hit Turkey’s easing of lockdown criticized
Commuters wearing protective masks at a bus stop in Istanbul on May 27, 2020, following a four-day lockdown imposed by the government to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2020

Hard-hit Turkey’s easing of lockdown criticized

Hard-hit Turkey’s easing of lockdown criticized
  • Restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen from Monday while intercity travel restrictions will be lifted the same day
  • Many professional organizations, especially the Turkish Medical Association, find the abrupt restart of business activity to be premature

ANKARA: Turkey is easing its coronavirus lockdown from June 1, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) saying it is one of the leading European countries for  coronavirus infections.    

The virus has killed 4,461 people in Turkey, and there were 160,979 infections as of May 28. It ranks 10th worldwide in confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to a tally from John Hopkins University.

Restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen from Monday while intercity travel restrictions will be lifted the same day.

Turkish Airlines has said there will be no additional measures for social distancing on its flights, contrary to expectations that passengers would have more space between seats.

Stay-at-home curbs for people under 19 and over 65 remain in place, but daycare centers and kindergartens are re-opening even though their target audience is not allowed out.

Istanbul’s iconic Grand Bazaar is also getting ready to reopen on June 1.

Shop owner Emre Demir is pessimistic about visitor flow to the bazaar, which houses almost 3,000 stalls and employs more than 30,000 people. The bustling landmark has been closed since March 23 and Demir does not expect his business to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.

“In normal days, the shop was generally visited by 150 people each day,” he told Arab News. “I was also taking care of hundreds of customers. But our clients are mainly coming from Germany and Russia and these countries are not yet allowing their nationals to go to Turkey. God knows how we can pay our rental fees if we can’t sell our products.”

The easing of restrictions are to boost economic activity in the country, where financial concerns have prevailed over public health requirements, according to experts.

Economist Bahadir Ozgur said that an already struggling Turkish economic outlook faced pandemic-related unemployment and revenue losses that would hit the service sector particularly hard. 

“The tradesmen struggling with rising debts are waiting to be paid back,” he told Arab News.

Tradesmen, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, constitute the backbone of Turkey's economic and social structure and they have borne the brunt of the damage brought on by the pandemic.

Turkey’s tourism season has been postponed for months and the government has had to compensate for this loss with other means, as two-thirds of the country’s tourism revenues are usually earned between April and September.

Banks have nearly $81 billion in foreign currency debt due over the next year but there are no positive signs yet from the central bank’s depleted reserves, making the country’s ailing economy vulnerable in an extended shutdown that has already wrought significant damage in the past few months.

Ozgur said the social support the ruling government was getting for easing lockdown restrictions had also strengthened its hand.

But many professional organizations, especially the Turkish Medical Association, find the abrupt restart of business activity to be premature and have called for increased testing, claiming that mass gatherings may trigger further contagion as the first wave of the outbreak is not yet over.

Economics professor Selva Demiralp, from Istanbul’s Koc University, published research for the Middle East Institute arguing that the extension of the lockdown period for another year, without taking effective measures, might increase the economic cost to about 10 percent of Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The IMF predicts that Turkey’s GDP will contract by 5 percent this year, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 17.2 percent. The official unemployment figure for March was 13.6 percent.