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

  • 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.


Yemen’s terrifying, severely damaged road to Taiz on brink of collapse

Vehicles are pictured on a damaged road, the only travel route between Yemen’s cities of Taiz and Aden. Yemen has been left in ruins by six years of war, where over 24 million people are in need of aid and protection. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2020

Yemen’s terrifying, severely damaged road to Taiz on brink of collapse

  • Convoys of vehicles big and small move at a snail’s pace as they squeeze past each other on the narrow road that has been severely damaged over the years by heavy rainfall

TAIZ: Lorries filled to the brim with goods labor up and down the dangerously winding and precipitous road of Hayjat Al-Abed, the mountainous lifeline to Yemen’s third largest city.
Unlike all other routes linking southwest Taiz to the rest of the war-torn country, the road — with its dizzying drop-offs into the valley below — is the only one that has not fallen into the hands of the Houthi rebels.
Some 500,000 inhabitants of the city, which is besieged by the Iran-backed Houthis, depend on the 7-km stretch of crater-filled road for survival, as the long conflict between the insurgents and the government shows no signs of abating.
Convoys of vehicles big and small move at a snail’s pace as they squeeze past each other on the narrow road that has been severely damaged over the years by heavy rainfall.
“As you can see, it is full of potholes, and we face dangerous slopes,” Marwan Al-Makhtary, a young truck driver, told AFP. “Sometimes trucks can no longer move forward, so they stop and roll back.”
Makhtary said nothing was being done to fix the road, and fears are mounting that the inexorable deterioration will ultimately bring the supply of goods to a halt.
Dozens of Taiz residents on Tuesday urged the government to take action, forming a human chain along the road — some of them carrying signs saying: “Save Taiz’s Lifeline.”

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500,000 inhabitants of Taiz, which is besieged by the Iran-backed Houthis, depend on the 7-km stretch of crater-filled road for survival.

“We demand the legitimate government and local administration accelerate efforts to maintain and fix the road,” said one of the protesters, Abdeljaber Numan.
“This is the only road that connects Taiz with the outside world, and the blocking of this artery would threaten the city.”
Sultan Al-Dahbaly, who is responsible for road maintenance in the local administration, said the closure of the road would represent a “humanitarian disaster” in a country already in crisis and where the majority of the population is dependent on aid.
“It is considered a lifeline of the city of Taiz, and it must be serviced as soon as possible because about 5 million people (in the province) would be affected,” he told AFP.

Humanitarian aid
Meanwhile, Yemen’s president on Thursday urged his government’s rival, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to stop impeding the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid following a warning from the UN humanitarian chief last week that “the specter of famine” has returned to the conflict-torn country.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s plea came in a prerecorded speech to the UN General Assembly’s ministerial meeting being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It aired more than a week after Human Rights Watch warned that all sides in Yemen’s conflict were interfering with the arrival of food, health care supplies, water and sanitation support.