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Many out and about in Turkey despite strictest COVID-19 lockdown yet

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Millions of people were on the streets on the first day of Turkey’s 17-day full lockdown, the strictest set of measures the country has seen, as many businesses and industries were exempt from the restrictions in an attempt by the government to avoid shutting down the country’s economy completely.

New lockdown restrictions, which took effect Thursday evening and will last until May 17, were imposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government after the country’s daily COVID-19 infections and fatalities reached record highs earlier in April.

During the nearly three-week lockdown, which covers the holy Muslim month of Ramadan as well as the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, people are prohibited from leaving their homes except to shop for groceries or meet other essential needs, while intercity travel requires special permits.

Turkish security forces on Friday patrolled main streets and set up checkpoints at entry and exit points of cities to enforce the country’s longest lockdown to date, which saw millions of people out and about due to exemptions granted to certain occupational groups and businesses.

Health care, supply chain and logistics companies, lawmakers, health care workers, law enforcement officers and tourists are exempt from the stay-at-home order, in addition to factories and agricultural enterprises.

According to an estimate by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), some 16 million workers in the country of 84 million will enjoy freedom of movement during the lockdown.

Although the streets of major cities such as the capital Ankara and İstanbul, the country’s commercial hub, were quieter than usual, workers exempted from the bans filled subways, cars and buses in İstanbul, local media reports said.

Bus terminals and airports were packed with travelers on Thursday as many people left İstanbul and Ankara to spend the shutdown holiday at homes on the coast. According to the reports, vehicles were backed up at the entrance to the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum.

Meanwhile, the Sözcü daily on Friday reported claims that the ruling AKP’s Diyarbakır provincial branch issued official permits to exempt its members from the stay-at-home order. Branch president Şerif Aydın told Sözcü that the permits only applied during party-related events and that party members were not exempt from any of the lockdown restrictions at other times.

Local media also reported that the sale of alcoholic beverages continued on Friday in some stores and supermarkets, although it was banned by the government as part of lockdown measures.

Following claims on social media that the ban had been lifted, Turkey’s Interior Ministry released a statement warning citizens against “people acting with the intention of spreading misleading information” regarding the latest restrictions.

The AKP, which had previously imposed partial, shorter-term lockdowns and weekend curfews in a bid to reduce the closures’ impact on the economy, decided to impose the recent measures after Turkey saw COVID-19 infections averaging around 60,000 per day during the peak week earlier this month.

The country, which also recorded its highest daily death toll on April 21 with 362 fatalities, reported 37,674 new cases and 339 deaths within the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 39,737.

Erdoğan previously said his government aims to reduce infections to around 5,000 a day before the tourist season so that Turkey, which relies heavily on tourism to bring in foreign currency, wouldn’t be “left behind” as many European countries start reopening.

Behind schedule for its vaccine rollout despite a quick start in January, Turkey has been able to administer 22 million shots, with only 13.5 million people receiving a second dose.

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