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Turkey reinstates weekend lockdowns as COVID-19 cases surge

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday announced that weekend lockdowns would be reinstated in most of the country’s provinces and that restrictions would be imposed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the number of daily COVID-19 cases has exceeded 32,000.

Turkey, which had eased restrictions earlier this month, reported 32,404 infections on Monday – the highest number this year – bringing the total number of cases in the country to more than 3.2 million since the outbreak of the pandemic on March 11, 2020. The death toll, meanwhile, stands at 31,230.

“Weekend curfews will again be in place on Saturdays. … During the month of Ramadan, restaurants and cafes in Turkey will only be allowed to deliver food as part of the measures against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Erdoğan said following a cabinet meeting.

As was the case last year, the traditions of Ramadan – which will start on April 13 and end on May 13 – such as mass gatherings in tents and other places for the pre-dawn and after-dusk meals were prohibited as part of the new coronavirus measures in addition to the daily overnight curfews, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., staying in place.

Meanwhile, the country’s new color-coded coronavirus map has been released, which showed a dramatic increase in caseload as 58 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including the cultural and economic hub of İstanbul and the capital, Ankara, have become “red.”

Erdoğan noted that 80 percent of Turkey’s almost 84 million citizens lived in “red” cities, which are at “very high-risk” with more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

According to the color-coding system that entered into use at the beginning of March, Turkey’s provinces have been categorized as low, medium, high or very high risk based on infection rates per 100,000 people.

Only 17 provinces were in the “red” category at the start of this month, when schools partially resumed in-person education. Cafes and restaurants were allowed to operate at half-capacity and weekend curfews were eased in low-risk regions.

Erdoğan has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for holding his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s conventions inside packed sports complexes across the country, despite a new surge of COVID-19 cases. The president has been accused of double standards for disregarding the social distancing rules that warn citizens to avoid indoor gatherings, especially after he boasted about the size of the crowd at one of the events.

Turkey began a mass COVID-19 vaccination drive in early January and has administered over 15.5 million vaccinations since then, according to official figures. More than 8.7 million people have received their first doses, while over 6.7 million have completed a two-dose course.

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