Turkey’s first full COVID-19 lockdown stirs controversy

Turkey’s first full COVID-19 lockdown stirs controversy

In its 14-month-old fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey has had to impose a full lockdown for the first time. Compared to other countries, Turkey’s anti-COVID struggle is different in this respect, resulting in criticism.

For example, almost all public health experts have criticized the government for prematurely lifting restrictions in March, arguing that this decision boosted the number of new cases from around 6,000 to 60,000 in less than six weeks. As a result of this concerning picture, the government has chosen to implement a 17-day curfew until May 17.

The objective of this lockdown is to reduce the number of daily new cases to below 5,000, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced, with expectations to normalize life ahead of the tourism season. According to government officials, if the lockdown yields a drastic decrease in the numbers and helps the healthcare system recover, then a gradual normalization could be on the cards in the post-lockdown period.

Almost everyone in Turkey, including the opposition parties and public health experts, think that limiting social mobility was the right decision, although they have raised important questions about its methodology.

First, the government should have immediately restricted intercity travel in a bid to prevent hundreds of thousands of Turks from migrating en masse from bigger cities to either their hometowns or their summer houses in southern resorts. As a result of this exodus, the coronavirus and its new variants will spread to different parts of the country, experts warn. Plus, the mayors of these small resorts complain that the existing health infrastructure cannot serve such crowds, particularly if they bring new cases.

The second issue public health experts have particularly raised is the fact that an effective lockdown is only possible if it is accompanied by effective inoculation, as seen in the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel. Due to the lack of enough vaccine, the pace of vaccination has considerably slowed in Turkey, which hasn’t even fully inoculated 10 percent of its 84 million population yet.

Third, the same experts suggest that what Turkey has announced cannot be defined as a total lockdown, as it offers exemptions to many sectors in order to ensure the continuity of production, manufacturing, supply and logistics chains, construction, as well as health, agriculture and forestry activities. The traffic congestion seen in the big cities on the first day of the closure was the best indicator that it is not a total lockdown.

In addition to these, two other important issues have caused public debate. The opposition parties, labor organizations and craftsmen’s associations have all slammed the government for failing to prepare an economic support package for those who are going to be severely affected by the lockdown.

The opposition-run municipalities in the big cities have announced that they will increase aid for all those who are in distress in this troubled period.

Another interesting debate in terms of public health, law and politics was sparked after the government banned the sale of alcohol products during the 17-day lockdown.

The government did not specify why exactly the alcohol ban was imposed, but there were suggestions that earlier weekend curfews had resulted in unfair competition, since chain markets were allowed to continue operating while small shops were forced to close.

What complicates the situation is the fact that a circular released by the Interior Ministry on the implementation of the lockdown does not mention a ban on the sale of alcohol. Some big chain markets continued to sell such products on the first day of the closure, while a statement from the ministry urged people to abide by the circular, even though it did not openly refer to the sale of alcohol.

Turkey’s 17-day lockdown has clearly begun amid great controversy, yet it’s our hope that measures will ultimately bring results and that Turkey will move forward in its fight against the coronavirus.

Serkan Demirtaş,