Citizens across the country on Monday got a glimpse of what life will look like in the coming months as shopping malls and beauty salons reopened after being closed for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, part of the government’s plan to return life to normalcy with a falling number of COVID-19 cases.
The decision to reopen some businesses came as Ankara put in motion a plan to ease part of the coronavirus measures after the Health Ministry announced the outbreak was under control. Since April 22, the number of new cases has been on the decline, dropping from a peak of 5,138 on April 11 to 1,542 on Sunday.
With fewer new cases came more recoveries. According to the Health Ministry’s latest coronavirus numbers on Sunday, 3,211 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of people surviving their brush with the virus to 92,691.
The figure showed that the people who recovered from the virus made up two-thirds of the country’s total COVID-19 cases, which stood at 138,657 as of Sunday.
The number of new cases was not the only thing decreasing, as the daily death toll has been on a decline as well. Sunday’s death toll of 47 marked the lowest the country has recorded since April 1.
“Our number of recovered patients will soon reach 100,000. New cases and deaths will continue to fall,” Koca wrote on Twitter as he urged citizens to not ease up on following the guidelines and to keep their guard up against the dangers of the virus.
Koca, along with other experts, has repeatedly warned citizens in the past that the easing of the measures did not mean the threat of the virus was over; it instead meant the beginning of a new lifestyle to which citizens would have to adapt.
The warnings were part of the government's plan to ease citizens back into normal life without risking a second wave of outbreak. Despite the Interior Ministry listing all mandatory precautions that businesses had to take in order to serve customers again, the responsibility of preventing the further spread of COVID-19 ultimately falls on citizens during the normalization period.
Shopping and a haircut
The reopening of shopping malls and beauty salons was likely the biggest sign that life was returning back to partial normalcy across Turkey. After months of being cooped up inside their homes to avoid contracting the virus, citizens were allowed to get a haircut and visit shopping malls, once hubs of social gatherings for many.
The malls and salons, however, were allowed to reopen under a set of strict rules to reduce the risk of infections. In line with advice from the country’s Coronavirus Science Board, the Interior Ministry listed a different set of mandatory precautions for beauty salons and shopping malls to follow.
The ministry required all barbers and beauty salons to accept customers with appointments only, while ordering them to use disposable towels and aprons, as well as face masks, while serving customers, who will be allowed to take their masks off depending on the service. The ministry also banned the use of razors.
The malls, meanwhile, will allow a certain number of customers inside, depending on the size of the complex, while anyone entering the building will have their temperature taken. Wearing masks is mandatory inside malls and shops.
The strict rules didn’t seem to discourage citizens from rushing to have their nails done or visit their favorite mall as long lines outside shopping malls were reported across the country, while beauty salons said they were booked out for at least a few days.
Security guards and mall personnel struggled to keep customers wanting to go in from getting dangerously close to each other while trying to accommodate those waiting in line.
The scenes prompted experts to issue fresh warnings about compliance with precautions.
“We need to follow social distancing rules everywhere. The social distancing practice is the new normal. Crowds should be stopped from forming. We need to keep a distance of at least a meter from each other in indoor spaces,” said professor Selma Metintaş, a member of Coronavirus Science Board.
Metintaş also reminded that it was important to wash hands regularly when visiting public places and a pocket-size disinfectant should be carried by everyone in case a restroom was not available for washing hands.
“The return to normalcy will never mean going back to times before the outbreak. Until a vaccine has been found, the precautions will continue depending on the circumstances,” she said.
Despite all the steps toward normalcy, an increasing number of citizens look forward to Ankara lifting travel restrictions imposed on Turkey’s major cities. With Ramadan Bayram or Eid al-Fitr, fast approaching, citizens hope the government will lift the travel restrictions so people can travel to their hometowns to spend the Bayram like they did for countless years.
Ankara restricted travel from the 31 cities initially, barring any entry and exit by land, air and sea except for the movement of goods and public personnel on official duty. The restriction was first imposed on March 17 for 15 days and was later extended twice.
With improving outlook, the government decided to lift restrictions for Antalya, Aydın, Erzurum, Hatay, Malatya, Mersin and Muğla, but kept the ban in place for the remaining 24, which includes Turkey's economic and cultural hub of Istanbul and the capital Ankara.
The recent extension is set to expire next week. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to announce whether the restrictions would be lifted for the Bayram.