Turkey postpones events until end-April over coronavirus

A total of 9,800 people were quarantined as Turks were advised to stay home for at least three weeks. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 20 March 2020

Turkey postpones events until end-April over coronavirus

  • Country’s death toll has reached four, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Thursday
  • A total of 9,800 people were quarantined so far

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree on Friday postponing all events related to science, culture and art, as it seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.
The country’s death toll has reached four, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Thursday, after an 85-year-old woman died of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
The number of confirmed cases in the country has surged since the first case was announced last week, reaching 359 on Thursday. The cases have roughly doubled every day since Sunday.
Koca said Turkey had conducted 1,981 tests in 24 hours to midnight Thursday, 168 of which came back positive.
The decree published in the Official Gazette on Friday said all meetings and activities, indoors or outdoors, related to science, culture, art and other similar fields would be postponed until the end of April.
State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as saying on Thursday that a total of 9,800 people were quarantined.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turks should stay home for at least three weeks, but did not ask them to stay away from work.
Ankara has suspended flights to 20 countries, closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues.
To alleviate the economic impacts of the virus, the central bank cut its policy rate by 100 basis points to 9.75 percent, while the government revealed a $15 billion package to support businesses.
Clothing retailers shuttered, dimming the economy’s prospects and raising questions for hundreds of thousands of workers. Malls, with some 530,000 employees and annual turnover of $160 billion, were set to follow suit.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 22 min 34 sec ago

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”