2 mln jobs lost in Turkey due to coronavirus measures, says opposition leader

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(PHOTO: AFP)

More than 2 million workers in Turkey have lost their jobs due to measures taken to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the main opposition party said on Friday, as the government moved closer to enforcing stricter curbs on movement to slow its spread, Reuters reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has ordered retailers, restaurants and other businesses to close but has yet to impose a full lockdown anywhere in the country.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Friday repeated his party’s call for broader restrictions on residents’ movements. At present only those over 65 are subject to a lockdown.

“They [the government] had to start a campaign to keep people home. This current campaign has only led to one thing: unemployment,” he told Fox TV in an interview, saying more than 2 million jobs have been lost so far during the epidemic.

It has killed more than 350 in Turkey, with confirmed cases topping 18,000, around 60 percent of which are in Istanbul.

Erdoğan has warned of tougher restrictions if the outbreak worsens or if citizens fail to adhere to a “voluntary quarantine” he has demanded nationwide.

A Turkish official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Friday that Ankara was evaluating further measures, including expanding the existing lockdown — under which essential trips are permitted — to those aged 60 and over and possibly also to under-18s.

“The wheels need to keep turning for the economy to not be damaged, but it is now becoming mandatory for some restrictions to be imposed,” the official said.

New measures were being considered for Istanbul, the official added, but acknowledged that the current pace of spread could lead to a “considerably problematic” situation this month.

Pressure for more restrictions also came from Meral Akşener, chairwoman of the opposition İYİ (Good) Party, who said in an online interview on Friday that the government was “running” from a stay-at-home order due to its economic implications.

Kılıçdaroğlu said on Friday that around 400,000 businesses had closed and many workers paid wages on a daily basis had also been laid off since the current coronavirus curbs began.

“The number of people who were working in those businesses and are now unemployed exceeds 2 million. They will get unemployment payments from the unemployment fund for a short time, but there are no guarantees after that,” he said.

The first official data showing the impact of the epidemic on Turkey’s workforce will not be published until May, when March unemployment figures are released.

Ankara has also rolled out a 100 billion lira ($15 billion) economic support package and launched a donation campaign to collect funds for the needy, which it said had so far raised 847 million lira.

“We urged the government to take precautions for dayworkers. No measures were taken,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that the government has to “make sacrifices” rather starting donation campaigns.

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