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Turkey eases lockdowns, partially reopens restaurants

Turkey has rolled out its plan to soften COVID-19 restrictions, easing weekend lockdowns in low and medium-risk provinces, while allowing limited reopening of restaurants and beginning face-to-face education in most of schools.

Under the “controlled normalization” strategy, details of which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on March 1 following a cabinet meeting, weekend lockdowns, in place since December, have been lifted in low and medium-risk provinces, while restrictions on Sundays will continue in provinces classified as high risk or very high risk.

Weeknight curfews, which last from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., however, will remain in place in all 81 provinces of the country.

In low- and medium-risk provinces, curfew restrictions will be lifted for people aged 65 and above as well as those under 20.

The map showing which province falls under which risk category will be updated each week, while the list of measures will be upgraded every two weeks on a province-by-province basis.

The decision to tighten or loosen measures will be made according to the improvement or worsening of the pandemic situation in each province.

The Health Ministry’s Science Board made the risk assessment of the provinces according to the number of virus cases per 100,000 people, the PCR tests’ positivity rates, the occupancy rates in intensive care units and the rise in the number of intubated patients, Health Minister Fahrettinn Koca explained in a tweet.

Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, and the third largest province İzmir are presently classified as high risk, while the capital Ankara is in the medium-risk category.

Restaurant reopening

As part of the normalization program, cafes and restaurants have also been allowed to re-open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 50 percent capacity in all provinces except for very high-risk ones.

The government shut down all restaurants for indoor dining late last year to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Since then they had been only allowed to provide takeaway and delivery services.

As they are resuming operations, restaurants and cafes will ask customers to provide a valid coronavirus contact tracing HES code. Those businesses will offer only takeaway and delivery services between 7.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. while offering only delivery services from 9.00 p.m. to 12.00 a.m.

Meanwhile, all pre-school education institutions across the country, elementary schools, grades eight through 12 resumed in-class education yesterday. Participation in face-to-face education will depend on parental consent.

According to the normalization plan, in low- and medium-risk provinces, wedding ceremonies that are up to one hour long can be held with up to 100 people attending, and with a maximum of 50 people in high-risk and very high-risk provinces. Also, in low- and medium-risk provinces, swimming pools will be able to operate between 9.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m., provided that the HES code is used at the entrances.

Vaccination drive

Erdoğan also noted that Turkey was one of only five countries worldwide to have already vaccinated 10 percent of their populations.

Turkey launched massive inoculations against COVID-19 on Jan. 14. More than 9 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine have been administered to the public, mostly health care workers and the elderly.

To date, over 7.1 million people have received the first dose of the jab while nearly 2 million people got both doses.

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