Turkey ramps up COVID-19 precautions as Erdoğan postpones foreign visits
Turkey will close its primary, secondary and high schools for two weeks, with remote education to begin in the second week as part of precautions against the novel coronavirus.
The announcement came after a five-hour meeting at the presidential complex amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Following the meeting, Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın declared various precautionary measures for the coming weeks.
Turkey to shut schools
He announced primary, middle and high schools would be closed for a week beginning March 16.
The one-week break will be brought forward, he said, referring to the break originally scheduled for April.
“Then, as of March 23, our students will continue their education through the Internet and television with the remote education system,” Kalın said, adding that the National Education Ministry carried out comprehensive work on the issue.
Education Minister Ziya Selçuk also reiterated the closures would begin on March 16, with remote education to begin as of March 23.
"With the remote education system presented free of charge by the National Education Ministry as well as the Health Ministry's protective and precautionary measures against the epidemic disease, Turkey is ready to become a model country with a television and internet-based curriculum prepared for the first time in the world on a national scale," Selçuk told reporters.
Selçuk noted that the system was also used earlier this year after a major earthquake struck Elazığ province to enable students to catch up with their lessons, adding the same system with a new interface will bring lessons to households.
A magnitude 6.8 earthquake jolted the province on Jan. 24, killing 41 people and injuring 1,500.
Free internet for students
He also said that those preparing for various exams, including university entrance and high school entrance examinations, will also benefit from the ministry's free of charge academic support platform.
Selçuk said all mobile phone operators would also provide three gigabytes of free internet data for students to use in the ministry's online service.
“All content for students from primary school to the 12th grade has been prepared,” he said, adding students can choose to study either via television or the internet depending on their situation and preferences.
He said the ministry is also mobilizing all possible means to prevent a pause in children's education and they have scenarios ready in case of any situation they may encounter.
Turkish Minister of Family, Labour and Social Services Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk said on Twitter that private kindergartens, daycare centers and private children's clubs will be shut as of March 16 until further notice.
No spectators into sporting events
Spectators will also not be allowed into sporting events until the end of April in efforts to avert a COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey.
We have the ability to overcome this period together, God willing, without becoming complacent or panicking,” presidential spokesman said.
“When you look at the global picture, we can see that the measures taken in Turkey are effective,” he said.
Erdoğan postpones foreign visits
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also postponed his foreign visits, while state officials will have to seek permission to travel abroad, said Kalın.
But a trilateral meeting of Turkish, French and German leaders in Turkey on the issue of the refugee crisis for March 17 is still valid, he noted.
Turkey's parliament has barred visitors through March 31 as a precaution against coronavirus, the Parliament Speaker's Office said.
"During this period, the work of parliament will continue, and the parliamentary staff will carry out their duties," said the statement, adding that after March 31, the measure will be reevaluated.
It noted that parliament will also not accept any visitors for the weekly parliamentary group meetings.
Turkey suspends gasoline ethanol requirement
Meanwhile, Turkey has temporarily scrapped ethanol requirement in gasoline in a bid to boost disinfectant production in the country, and ward off the coronavirus outbreak, the country's industry and technology minister said.
"The obligation to mix 3 percent ethanol into gasoline is suspended for three months. Thus, ethanol demand of refineries will decrease," Mustafa Varank said.
The move aims to meet ethanol need in disinfectant and cologne production along with boosting the production.
Cologne is a popular traditional ethanol-based scented disinfectant in Turkey.
After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 114 countries.
The global death toll is now over 4,600, with more than 125,000 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared the outbreak a pandemic.