Turkey enters ‘full lockdown’ in bid to save tourist season

A drop by two-thirds in tourism revenues last year ballooned Turkey’s current account deficit, putting pressure on its depleted FX reserves and sending the lira to a record low in November.
Tuesday 27/04/2021
Ankara’s tribute to Ozlem Tureci (L) and Ugur Sahin (R), the German couple of Turkish origin who are behind the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. (AFP)
Ankara’s tribute to Ozlem Tureci (L) and Ugur Sahin (R), the German couple of Turkish origin who are behind the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.( AFP)

ANKARA--Turks will be required to stay mostly at home under a nationwide “full lockdown” starting on Thursday and lasting until May 17 to curb a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths, President Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday.

The new measures will therefore include May 13-15 Seker Bayram holiday at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Key to the government’s concerns is a second year hit to crucial tourism revenues. Russia has already announced it is restricting flights to Turkey until June 1 which Ankara has said  would cut tourist numbers by around half a million.

A drop by two-thirds in tourism revenues last year ballooned Turkey’s current account deficit, putting pressure on its depleted FX reserves and sending the lira to a record low in November.

“Tourism is of critical importance for foreign exchange inflows,” said a government official, “So as not to miss out totally on the tourism season, these measures must be implemented strictly.”

The lira has fallen during the last six straight trading days to near its low water mark over concerns about tense US ties,and also policy under a new central bank chief.

“If it’s the solution, we have to put up with a full shutdown. But this must be done without harming the production side” said the official.

Turkey has logged 37,312 new COVID-19 infections and 353 deaths in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, sharply down from mid-April but still the world’s fourth highest number of cases and the worst on a per-capita basis among major nations. Both infections and deaths have shot up since Erdogan launched a period of “controlled normalisation” in early March.

Announcing the new measures after a cabinet meeting Monday, Erdogan said all intercity travel would require official approval, all schools would shut and move lessons online, and a strict capacity limit would be imposed for users of public transport.

Turks will have to stay indoors except for essential shopping trips and urgent medical treatment. Certain groups including emergency service workers and employees in the food and manufacturing sectors will be exempt.

The new restrictions take effect from 1600 GMT on Thursday and will end at 0200 GMT on May 17.

“At a time when Europe is entering a phase of reopening, we need to rapidly cut our case numbers to below 5,000 not to be left behind. Otherwise we will inevitably face heavy costs in every area, from tourism to trade and education,” Erdogan said and warned the measures would be enforced “in the strictest manner to ensure they yield the results we seek”.

Two weeks ago Turkey announced a night-time curfew from 7pm till 5am on weekdays, as well as full weekend lockdowns, after cases surged to record levels, but the measures proved insufficient to bring the pandemic under control.

Total daily cases in Turkey peaked above 63,000 on April 16 before dropping sharply to below 39,000 on Sunday.

The total official death toll in Turkey, a nation of 84 million, stood at 38,711 on Monday, the health ministry data showed.