(Natural News) Turkey entered its first nationwide lockdown on Thursday, April 29, right in the midst of an economic crisis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he ordered the nearly three-week lockdown to keep Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases below 5,000 ahead of the upcoming tourist season.
Under the new restrictions, residents are not allowed to leave their homes except when shopping for groceries and other essential needs. Liquor stores are also closed while restaurants can only deliver food. Intercity travel, on the other hand, is allowed only with permission.
Industries including agriculture, health care and logistics are exempt from the lockdown. Lawmakers, healthcare workers, law enforcement officers and tourists are also excused from the stay-home order.
Before the lockdown started on Thursday afternoon, people crowded shops to stock up on food and other supplies. Meanwhile, others fled the city to spend the shutdown at vacation homes on the coast, flooding airports and bus terminals. The exodus of vacationers also caused severe traffic at the entrance of the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum in southwestern Turkey.
The nationwide lockdown would last until May 17, overlapping with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday. It was the strictest measure that the country had adopted so far; Erdogan previously opted for partial lockdowns to keep the economy afloat. (Related: New Delhi under weeklong coronavirus lockdown as “cases” surge in Indian capital.)
The president ordered the latest lockdown to reduce the number of new infections ahead of the tourist season. Turkey relies heavily on tourism to bring in foreign currency and keep several thousand employed.
Erdogan said he aimed to lower the country’s daily new cases to below 5,000 to catch up with European nations that started reopening. By comparison, the country logged an average of 60,000 daily new cases during last month’s peak week. On the day the lockdown started, new infections per day stood at more than 37,000.
The lockdown came as the Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of football in Europe, is set to hold its Champions League final in Istanbul at the end of the month. The championship event typically draws thousands of supporters. But since Turkish city is a COVID-19 hotspot, there were calls to relocate the event or limit the number of live spectators.
Erdogan criticized as lockdown will weigh heavily on ailing economy
Erdogan’s government came under intense criticism due to its botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its violation of its own rules. Many Turks feared that the latest lockdown would further worsen the economy at a time when the country is already suffering from high unemployment, high inflation and dramatically weakened currency.
Eyal, an Istanbul native working in the tourism industry, told CNBC that the lockdown would “destroy the people who want to earn money for their beloved ones as the economy was hit terribly even before corona.”
“As a person in the tourism field, we are also struggling because of the badly managed corona situation by the government, as after (the lockdown announcement) there were cancellations of the very few reservations we had,” he said, withholding his last name for fear of government reprisal.
According to the international group Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tourism accounted for roughly 7.7 percent of Turkey’s employment before the pandemic. Tourism revenue rose to a record high in 2019 but dropped by 72 percent in the first 11 months of 2020, Reuters reported.
Agatha Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, opined that the lockdown came “at a bad time.” The country’s inflation rate was at 15 percent, youth employment was at 25 percent and the Turkish lira hit record lows against the dollar in the last several months.
“The new measures will further dent confidence and increase uncertainty, weighing on economic growth this year,” Demarais predicted. (Related: Economist calls for more freedom in Germany as extended lockdown keeps bankrupting businesses.)
But while ordinary Turks were forced to obey restrictions and suffer the losses that come with these measures, Erdogan broke his own rules and held large gatherings. Last March, for example, the president threw an event for his political party’s congress. The event saw thousands of people packed inside a 10,400-capacity sports complex, completely breaking Turkey’s social distancing rules.
Learn more about how other countries are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.