Turkey to further ease COVID-19 restrictions as cases drop

As Turkey counts down to June 1 for a planned normalization process, a cabinet meeting to further relax COVID-19 restrictions will take place at the Presidential Complex in capital Ankara today, Daily Sabah reports. 

Chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the meeting is expected to ease the mandatory mask rule as part of a gradual normalization process.

According to the Hürriyet daily, authorities are considering ending the rule with a few preconditions. In open-air public spaces like parks, masks will not be mandatory as long as people maintain the two-meter (6.5-foot) social distancing rule.

The normalization follows a 17-day lockdown that ended earlier this month. However, some restrictions, including nighttime curfews that start at 9 p.m. every day and a 56-hour lockdown over the weekend, remain in place. Masks are mandatory everywhere, while restaurants and cafes are only open for takeaway services.

Media reports also claimed that the normalization process will see a reopening of restaurants and cafes under the condition they only fill 50% of their capacity and serve a limited number of customers. The rescheduling of nighttime curfews is also planned and they are expected to start later than 9 p.m.

Authorities have signaled that a gradual normalization process will start on June 1, in a process similar to the relaxing of restrictions that occurred on the same day last year – a few months after the pandemic made its foray into the country.

The news comes a day after the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board convened to discuss the process. The board advises the government on pandemic-related measures.

The country managed to bring down its daily case numbers to just over 6,933 on Saturday, a considerable drop compared to the numbers fluctuating around 50,000 last month.

The government first started a normalization process in March, after assigning risk categories to each of the 81 provinces, allowing each province to implement its own measures or relax them. But the idea was scrapped soon after when a sudden surge in cases was seen all over the country. Before announcing the lockdown, Erdoğan had voiced the country’s desire to bring the daily case numbers down to around 5,000. Experts say the lockdown largely paid off but more vaccination is needed to further decrease them.

Meanwhile, the country continues its mass vaccination efforts.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca recently said Turkey will accelerate its vaccination campaign as of June 1 when it will start inoculating citizens aged 50 and above.

After a meeting with the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, Koca also announced that Turkey will soon use its own vaccine.

"I would like to share the good news that we will soon be administering our own COVID-19 vaccine."

He further added, "With current developments and plans for normalization, it has become clear that we will recover from the devastating impact of the outbreak this summer."

Furthermore, Turkey has signed deals to procure 270 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, "which is more than three times our population."

"At the beginning of next week, about 5 million doses of vaccine will reach our country," Koca said.

Koca also previously stated that Sinovac, the Beijing-based firm behind CoronaVac, had granted Turkey authorization to produce the vaccine but that production would not start for a few months. The health minister noted that 10 million CoronaVac vaccines are expected to be delivered to Turkey within the week.



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