Turkey set to loosen restrictions even as coronavirus cases increase

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Turkey is preparing to test 150,000 citizens to determine how widely the novel coronavirus has spread among the population, the country’s health minister said Wednesday even as the government announced that the outbreak was under control.

It is two months since Turkey recorded cases and the government plans to set out new social policies and business practices to prevent a resurgence but aims to do the large sample test to ascertain the exact remaining spread of Covid-19.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the sample would be done with both PCR tests that are used to detect antigens from viral infections and with antibody tests. He did not say when the testing would begin.

“We want to see the extent of the spread, the carriers and the condition of the patients,” Mr Koca said after a meeting with the country’s scientific advisory council.

The Turkish government plans to gradually ease restrictions it imposed during the pandemic.

Mahya depicts Turkey's national flag which is installed between the minarets of Camlica mosque, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Istanbul, Turkey, April 28, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Caliskan

epa08389478 A handout photo made available by the Turkish Defence Ministry of Turkish soldiers loading medical protection equipment into a Turkish military cargo plane to be donated to the United States at the Etimesgut airport in Ankara, Turkey, 28 April 2020. Turkey sent protective face masks, protective suits, and other medical equipment to the USA for their fight against the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, with the instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. EPA/TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY HANDOUT HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

A flight crew member stands on a tarmac in front of a donation of medical supplies from Turkey, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The donation to help fight the new coronavirus in the United States included surgical masks, sanitizers and protective suits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Medical personnel participate in a briefing at Istanbul University Cerrahpasa - Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty Hospital's ward dedicated to patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) in Istanbul, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Turkey has seen a decline this week in the number of daily deaths and rates of infection since it started to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic last month. The government has refrained from imposing a total lockdown, fearing its negative impact on the already fragile economy. (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of Eminonu district during a two-day curfew imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS//Umit Bektas/File Photo

epa08392157 Women walk with face masks in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 April 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan announced that there will be another curfew in 31 big cities, including Istanbul (the country's most populous urban agglomeration), between 01-03 May due to the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The government has also decreed the cancellation of public events and has temporarily shut down schools and suspended sporting events amid the pandemic. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Esat Sahin, Imam of the iconic Fatih Mosque, holds a prayer held without public due to the coronavirus restrictions in Istanbul, April 24, 2020, during the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

epa08392155 A man sleeps with face protective equipment on street in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 April 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan announced that there will be another curfew in 31 big cities, including Istanbul (the country's most populous urban agglomeration), between 01-03 May due to the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The government has also decreed the cancellation of public events and has temporarily shut down schools and suspended sporting events amid the pandemic. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

TOPSHOT - Health workers help a woman who tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at Bagcilar in Istanbul, on April 28, 2019, in Istanbul. / AFP / Bulent Kilic

A Turkish military flight crew member, right, bumps elbows with a FEMA worker as crews unload a donation of medical supplies from Turkey, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The donation to help fight the new coronavirus in the United States included surgical masks, sanitizers and protective suits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Health workers help a woman who tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at Bagcilar in Istanbul, on April 28, 2019, in Istanbul. / AFP / Bulent Kilic

TOPSHOT - Employees of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality youth center sews face masks, in Ankara, Turkey, on April 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. / AFP / Adem ALTAN

Employees of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality youth center sews face masks, in Ankara, Turkey, on April 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. / AFP / Adem ALTAN

TOPSHOT - A man sanitises the room as Syrians who returned from Turkey rest at a quarantine facility in the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, west of the mostly rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, on April 27, 2020 during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ

Customers wearing protective face masks maintain social distancing while queuing before the opening of a bank branch in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

A health worker measures the temperature of a man at a quarantine facility for Syrians who returned from Turkey in the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, west of the mostly rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, on April 27, 2020 amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality workers spray a street with disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

A lone pedestrian walks across an empty Taksim square during curfew in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday, April 26, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

Mr Koca said that during the next phase of the outbreak, people in Turkey should expect a “controlled social life.”

“We are not returning to normal. We are introducing a new normal into our lives,” he said. “The controlled social life will have rules of its own, and we will have get used to these rules and lead a new kind of life.”

He added: “The risk continues; losing control will invite a second wave of infections.”

The health minister also reported Wednesday that Turkey had 64 virus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total in the country to 3,584.

The number of cases rose by 2,253 to 131,744, less than half the daily increase at the peak of the outbreak in mid-April. But it was the second day showing a slight increase in confirmed cases, highlighting a continued threat of further spread.

A total of 78,202 people have so far recovered from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease Covid-19.

Turkey ranks eighth in the world for the number of confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data, although experts believe the tally around the world is higher than reported.

But while Turkey has one of the highest numbers of recorded cases it has kept the death toll well below levels in Western Europe and the United States.

Mr Koca said Turkey will increase its testing capacity, currently running between 30,000 and 40,000 most days, and continue contact tracing efforts which officials credit in part with getting control over the outbreak.

On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was starting to reduce coronavirus containment measures, lifting inter-city travel restrictions in seven provinces and easing a curfew imposed on the elderly and people less than 20 years old.

Shopping malls, barbershops and some stores will be allowed to open on May 11 provided they abide by so-called normalisation rules, and universities would return to their academic calendar on June 15, he said.

All main Turkish automotive factories will resume operations as of May 11, Industry Minister Mustafa Varank said on Tuesday.

The Interior Ministry issued guidelines ahead of the expected opening of barbershops and beauty salons. The shops would need to operate on only a by-appointment basis, customers would have to sit apart from each other, and both clients and stylists would be required to wear masks.

Barbers would be able to cut hair but not shave facial hair, the ministry guidelines state.

Updated: May 7, 2020 08:47 AM

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