Starting Monday, travelers, concertgoers, filmgoers and people attending crowded events in Turkey are required to show negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results if they are not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The new measure, announced last month, aims to curb the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the country, which reached 19,391 as of Sunday, with 269 fatalities. Since March 2020, Turkey reported more than 6 million cases and more than 52,000 deaths. With vaccination viewed as the only way to tackle the pandemic, authorities seek to boost the vaccination program and encourage more to get vaccinated. So far, more than 97 million doses have been administered.
Under new regulations, unvaccinated people and those who have not been infected with the coronavirus in the past will be required to show negative PCR test results for flights, intercity buses, train travel and trips by other means of mass transit. Companies operating flights and offering land travel will ask passengers to show negative PCR test results issued 48 hours at most before the trip. People who cannot proivde negative test results will not be allowed onboard planes, trains and buses. Test results can be checked via the Life Fits Into Home (HES) code stored in the eponymous Health Ministry app available on smartphones.
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure crews will also regularly check mass transit vehicles traveling between cities for people violating the rules. Those not eligible for vaccines including children and infants will be allowed to travel. At airports, PCR test booths are set up for passengers. Vaccination is already widely available in the country at inoculation points set up everywhere, from hospitals and neighborhood clinics, to city and town squares.
Upon the launch of the scheme, hospitals were filled with the unvaccinated, seeking jabs before travel. Güven Halisdemir was one of the “victims” of the new rules. Halisdemir was to fly to Nevşehir province from Istanbul for his honeymoon with his wife but he only had one dose of a vaccine while his wife had both doses. “They asked me for a PCR test. My wife boarded the plane and I will take another flight,” he told Ihlas News Agency (IHA) at Istanbul Airport Monday. Sedat Atak, another passenger traveling with his wife was unaware of the test requirement. “My wife is pregnant so she had to skip the second dose. But they did not allow us on board. We rescheduled our flight and my wife will undergo a test,” Atak said.
Nurbanu Demirtaş, a medical school student, hailed the PCR requirement as she was about to board a train to Istanbul from the northwestern province of Edirne. "I am glad they are checking people now. You are traveling with people you do not know and you cannot be sure if the person sitting next to you is vaccinated or not," she told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Proof of PCR tests carried out at most 48 hours prior will also be required for watching films at cinemas, plays at theaters and for entrance to concert venues.
Also starting on Monday, employers are allowed to ask their employees for a weekly negative PCR test if they are not vaccinated.
Turkey is battling a surge in cases after a COVID-19 lockdown managed to contain an earlier wave of infections. Following the start of a normalization process which lifted curfews and most other restrictions, cases were fluctuating around 20,000. Although the vaccination program, in parallel with normalization, was opened up to more age groups (now covering all ages above 15), vaccine hesitancy prevailing in some provinces prompts concerns. Experts say mass immunity is needed to overcome the devastating impact of the pandemic and it is only possible with mass vaccination.
The latest weekly figures from August, announced by the Health Ministry late Sunday, pointed to a steady course in cases. The provinces of Rize and Bayburt led the sharpest rise in weekly cases per 100,000 for the week between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27, at 614 and 473, respectively. They are followed by Nevşehir, Kayseri, Kilis, Trabzon, Aksaray, Gaziantep, Bolu and Tokat. “You have to be more careful if you are in one of those provinces,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted Sunday.
Aydın, Muğla, Antalya, Izmir and Kırklareli had the least weekly COVID-19 cases.