Embattled with the third wave of infections in the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey had tightened measures before finally adopting a 17-day lockdown on April 29. The restrictions have started yielding results in the country where daily cases climbed to 50,000 and above last week. This week the country is already seeing a marked decline in daily cases as well as hospitalizations, both down nearly 30% compared to previous weeks. In light of these developments, authorities plan to launch a gradual reopening process in the week or weeks following the end of lockdown.
While sharper declines in daily cases are expected as the lockdown progresses through the remainder of Ramadan, daily fatalities currently remain above 300.
The lockdown, which means an around-the-clock curfew and a ban on intercity travel, with few exemptions, is the toughest measure since the early days of the pandemic in Turkey in March 2020. Prior to lockdown’s start, a large number of people left big cities for resort towns in the south or for their small hometowns, seeking isolated getaways. Security forces are mobilized nationwide to ensure those who “escaped” big cities stay indoors and do not violate lockdown rules. People are allowed to go out only for shopping for groceries or other immediate needs, and only from businesses at walking distance from their homes. Police and gendarmerie forces set up checkpoints at roads connecting cities to crack down on violations of the intercity travel ban, while security forces patrol the empty streets to check upon any curfew breakers. “Isolation” is key for travelers, but the responsibility ultimately lies with the public itself to isolate themselves in places they go. Patrols aim to prevent any gatherings. Closure of most businesses, including restaurants and cafes to in-person dining, is expected to prevent any such gatherings. Yet, the concerns are high about uncontrollable gatherings of people at homes, such as people coming together with their neighbors or relatives, in the privacy of their homes.
The apparent contributor to the decline in cases is Istanbul, which, for a long time, constituted 40% of cases across the country due to it being the most populated city of Turkey. Istanbul now accounts for only 30% of cases, although it still has the highest number of weekly average cases per 100,000 people (around 854 as of the week of April 17).
The country has also seen a drop in the rate of positive tests, hovering between 11% and 12%, and as is the case with the number of daily cases, this rate is projected to decrease to around 8% after the first week of full lockdown. Authorities anticipate seeing initial results of the lockdown then, but it won’t be fast, according to experts. First, the overall number of patients is expected to decrease, followed by a decrease in the number of seriously ill patients. A drop in fatalities will be the last positive development, as deaths do not occur immediately after the infection and therefore it takes longer to see an impact in this statistic.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said as he announced the full lockdown that they wanted to bring the number of daily cases below the threshold of 5,000. Currently, the average number of daily cases per 100,000 people fluctuates between 400 and 500. A decline to 100 will be progress for the country, and authorities hope to reach this number by the end of Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, which will start on May 13 and end on May 17, coinciding with the end of the full lockdown.
The biggest question now is what will happen after the lockdown. A drop below 10,000 in daily cases and later to 5,000 after bayram, which otherwise would have been a busy occasion with high mobility, may mark a return to normalization. If that won’t be the case, authorities may consider extending lockdown into the following week, or at least to the national holiday on May 19. Nevertheless, normalization will be gradual. Authorities are planning different stages for the reopening, starting with places with the least risk and/or of vital importance. Schools, which were also closed to in-person education during the lockdown, will likely be the first to reopen, with critical exams scheduled for the end of the second school term expected to be held in-person. Under yet unconfirmed plans for reopening, small offices, like offices of lawyers working alone, and shops like barbers will be allowed to reopen next. Finally, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen to in-person dining, with limited capacity and by only serving at their outdoor sections. Weekday nighttime curfews and 56-hour lockdowns during the weekends, which were in force before the lockdown, will be the last to be lifted.