Turkey considering reimposing coronavirus curbs, without hurting economy

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Turkey is considering re-imposing some measures to stem rising coronavirus cases such as stay-home orders for younger and older people or even weekend lockdowns, but will avoid hurting the economic recovery, a senior official said.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the total number of COVID-19 cases is about five times that reported in the government’s daily tally - echoing concerns by Turkey’s top medical association and opposition lawmakers.

Health ministry officials were not immediately available to comment. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has warned about the uptick in numbers and urged Turks to abide by nationwide distancing and mask rules, which are subject to fines.

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The senior official was speaking to Reuters after Turkey’s daily new symptomatic coronavirus cases rose to 2,026 on Monday, the highest level since early May when restrictions on businesses and households were in place.

“New measures could be enforced after looking at the process over a few weeks,” the senior official said, adding the picture would become clearer after assessing the impact of the partial reopening of schools earlier this month.

Turkey’s medical association and main opposition party have criticized a government decision to only disclose the number of symptomatic patients.

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The health ministry changed the wording in its daily reports from “cases” to “patients” on July 29, and Koca said the daily number only includes symptomatic cases.

The official told Reuters there were many without symptoms.

“It appears the number of cases is around five times the number of patients. If this trend goes higher of course some measures will be taken,” he said.

Another official said that while a recent rapid rise in cases in the capital Ankara had slowed somewhat, upticks in cities such as Istanbul posed a risk for the country in this “difficult period.”

But draconian measures like “a full lockdown” were not on the agenda, he said.

The number of “patients” in Turkey since the outbreak began exceeds 350,000, with nearly 9,500 deaths, ministry data shows.

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Turkey imposed lockdowns, restricted intercity travel and closed restaurants and cafes earlier this year. Almost all restrictions were lifted in June.

The economy shrank 10 percent in the second quarter and a Reuters poll on Wednesday showed growth was seen contracting 3.4 percent in 2020 as a whole, a much bleaker outlook than government forecasts.

Any new curbs would have a “narrower scope” and protect the economy, the first official said.

“Measures on the agenda are: closure of restaurants and facilities at certain hours; fixed hours during which young people and over-65s can go out; or as a last step, weekend lockdowns,” he said, adding the cabinet is working on it.

“We will see some steps without waiting too long,” he said.

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