Lockdown and the new reality
For a long time, people alarmed by the figures revealed in the coronavirus pandemic data have been asking the government to declare a lockdown. The government finally listened to the calls of the people. But it is not yet clear whether what came was a lockdown or a Turkish-style enforced - yet partial - “stay at home” executive order.
It has been a week since the government imposed the “closure” - as people prefer to call it - but why is the Interior Ministry still issuing circulars and information leaflets about the same every now and then? Is the state still undecided about the dimensions of the lockdown? Or is it possible that, as in democracies where public opinion does matter, “pressure groups” – that is lobbies – can indeed effectively function in the new Turkey?
Optical, hardware and electronic shops were closed down while bakeries, groceries and stores, including megastores selling food items, were exempt from the lockdown in the first lockdown announcement by the government. Thus, while small shops around the corner were all closed, megastores, where similar items were offered to the consumers, were left open. Associations and chambers dealing with hardware small businesses, opticians, electronic shop owners and such started complaining that while they were not compensated for their losses because of the lockdown, megastores were providing to their customers the very same items without being affected by the restrictions.
Thus, came a new decree banning megastores from selling almost everything except food items. Meanwhile, the complaint regarding the ban of alcohol during the lockdown period was rendered meaningless as everything not related to the basic food requirement of the society is now off the shelves in this special period. Due to the lockdown, farmers could not sell their products, wholesale traders could not carry them to markets in big cities. Tons of vegetables were poured on the streets by farmers along the Mediterranean towns. The Interior Ministry issued a new “clarification” announcing that drivers carrying vegetables to big cities were excluded from the lockdown, as well as one green market would be allowed in every district of big cities on Saturdays. The complaint by farmers paid off.
In any way, complaints by farmers managed to lift the ban on green markets in big cities while demands of small shop owners voiced by their organizations helped to enforce similar restrictions on the megastores for the sake of “equality” – whatever that indeed amounted to – I may say that this is one of those rare times when “right advocates” scored “victory.”
The economy is, of course, important. It is far more important empty political rhetoric. Like all other members of the international community of nations, Turkey has been terribly affected by the pandemic. Since March last year, excluding some construction conglomerates in all sectors irrespective of size, all Turkish businesses suffered severe losses. People have been searching for some clever ways of resolving their problems, but there is no magical formula to overcome lost customers. Barbers, restaurant owners, hoteliers, travel agents and catering companies were all badly hit. Farmers face serious difficulty in selling their products. Export is not a viable solution. As hotels are not fully operational and tourism has not yet resumed, the tourism industry is in trouble as well.
These are, of course, exceptional periods. Irrespective of whether societies are willing to change, no one can escape the long-term impact of this situation that will change the behavioral patterns of everyone. In the two-day period between the declaration that the government decided to impose lockdown and the lockdown entered into force, hundreds of thousands of Turks flocked to the Aegean and Mediterranean summer houses and family homes. In towns with health services designed for 50,000 people or so, there is now an inflated population of several hundred thousand. The newcomers might have brought with them some infection threat as well. People have learned the hard way that in lockdown, the sea might be just meters away, but there is a risk of a heavy fine to have some swimming escape. It is indeed difficult to understand why on a Black Sea upland pasture, for example, local police chased jogging youngsters with no other people around. Probably restrictions must be arranged by local authorities taking into consideration the “reality on the ground” in their neighborhood rather than some bureaucrats ordering from Ankara.
The good news is that there appears to be some serious decrease in the number of coronavirus cases. From around 60,000 coronavirus cases a day, the Health Ministry announced that the number of cases dropped to around 30,000. That’s a consolation for the lockdown.