Dozens of Turkish cities, including Istanbul, have been placed under lockdown for two days from midnight on Friday to combat the spread of the coronavirus, as the country’s death toll from the pandemic crossed 1,000.
The restrictions, which will last until midnight (21:00 GMT) on Sunday, were imposed in 31 provinces across the country and scaled up existing curbs, under which people under the age of 20 and over 65 have been told to stay at home.
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Detailing specifics of the lockdown, the interior ministry in a statement said bakeries, pharmacies and health facilities would be excluded from the ban, enabling people to meet essential needs.
Strategic energy companies, distribution firms and some petrol stations would also be allowed to keep operating, and people working in such places were exempted from the lockdown, it said.
“It is essential that all other citizens remain in their homes aside from the specified exemptions,” the statement said.
Ankara has also halted all international flights, restricted domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, and suspended mass prayers. But people have still been going to work to sustain economic activity.
“We urge all citizens who live in these 31 provinces to comply with this weekend’s lockdown without panicking,” the country’s communications director Fahrettin Altun wrote on Twitter.
He called on people to maintain physical distancing in the brief time before the lockdown went into effect. However, soon after news of the move emerged, many left their homes to buy food and drink in the country’s commercial hub Istanbul, a city of more than 15 million people.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said this was an “unprecedented announcement”, following differences of opinion between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and the country’s science board.
“The science board under the health ministry has been urging the government to impose an immediate lockdown, especially for Istanbul, which has a population of more than 15 million people,” Koseoglu said, speaking from Istanbul. “But Erdogan has always been saying that the Turkish economy’s wheel should keep turning, and the logistics and supply lines shouldn’t be cut.”
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition party, who had previously called for a lockdown, was also critical of the short notice and complained of not being informed in advance.
Istanbul resident Simona Hayrabet, who had gone out to buy fruit and water for the weekend, said she had expected such a move by the government, “but it happened so abruptly.”
Another resident, Marina Gravina Zagaia, criticised the late-night announcement while Salih Topcu, holding a shopping list written by his wife, described it as “nonsense”.
“It is really bad that they announced it so late. Had it been in the morning, we would have gone to the markets to get food and drinks,” Zagaia told AFP.
“Right now everyone is going through chaos,” she added.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told a news conference in Ankara that 4,747 new coronavirus cases had been reported in the last 24 hours and 98 people had died. That brings the total death toll in Turkey to 1,006 and the total number of infections to 47,029.
Earlier on Friday, before the lockdown was announced, Koca had urged people to resist the temptation to leave their homes during the weekend as the weather warms.