Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

Workers in protective suits spray disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in Istanbul. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

  • Turkey has stopped all international flights and limited domestic travel
  • Authorities still haven’t ordered people to stay home

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan is under growing pressure from unions and the opposition for a lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, but insists that Turkey should “keep wheels turning” in the economy and that people continue going to work.
Ankara has stopped all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak.
The authorities have not, however, ordered people to stay at home, even as the number of cases in Turkey has risen sharply. On Monday these reached 10,827, less than three weeks since Turkey registered its first case. The death toll jumped to 168, drawing fresh calls for tighter measures.
With Turkey emerging from a recession triggered by a 2018 currency crisis, Erdogan aims to avoid endangering the recovery by enforcing a stay-at-home order that would halt economic activity and has called instead for voluntary self-isolation.
Two leading union confederations called for a halt to all but emergency work and for measures to be implemented to support workers. “All work should be stopped for a minimum of 15 days except for the production of essential and emergency goods and services,” TURK-IS Chairman Ergun Atalay said in a statement.
He also called for a ban on layoffs for the duration of the pandemic and said income support should be provided to all workers who are experiencing loss of work and income. The DISK union confederation issued an identical statement.
The Turkish Medical Association said on Monday there were many mistakes in Ankara’s “inadequate” response to the pandemic, saying borders had been left open too long and that quarantine had not been imposed on most Turks returning from abroad.
“At this stage, the disease has spread to every part of the country, hence the opportunity to enforce a quarantine has gone,” it said in a statement.
It said that more than 30,000 tests needed to be carried out daily and that those testing positive needed to be properly isolated.
But after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said it was necessary to maintain output to sustain the supply of basic goods and support exports.
“Turkey is a country that needs to continue production and keep the wheels turning under all conditions and circumstances.”
The main opposition CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said measures imposed on senior citizens and the chronically ill should be extended to a nationwide “quarantine.”
“Inadequate” response
The CHP’s Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, underlined the importance of a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, with a population of 16 million people — nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population.
“If 15% of the city’s population goes out that is 2.5 million people. As the weather gets better people will go out,” Imamoglu told Fox TV in an interview on Monday. “Even if they don’t do it for Turkey, a lockdown can be announced for Istanbul.”
On Monday, Erdogan also launched a campaign to collect donations from citizens for those in need, saying he was donating seven months of his salary to the cause and that the effort had already drawn $11 million.


UN officials appeal for Yemen funding amid pandemic

Updated 39 min 36 sec ago

UN officials appeal for Yemen funding amid pandemic

  • The United Nations says COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen
  • UN officials: What we don’t have is the money. We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Top officials from several UN agencies appealed Thursday for urgent international financial support in Yemen with coronavirus spreading in the war-torn country.
“We are increasingly alarmed about the situation in Yemen,” officials from the UN Humanitarian Affairs Department, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement.
“We are running out of time,” they said.
The United Nations says COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, which was already immersed in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis because of a war that shows no sign of abating.
The UN officials said they currently have enough “skills, staff and capacity.”
“What we don’t have is the money. We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly,” they said, noting that a donors conference has been organized for June 2 by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.
Mark Lowcock, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said $2.4 billion needed to be raised by the end of the year for Yemen, including $180 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yemen is in desperate need of assistance,” Muhannad Hadi of the World Food Programme said, while UNICEF’s director, Henriette Fore, warned of a “major disaster.”
More than 12 million children in Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid, she said.
Before the pandemic, two million children lacked schools. Another five million have since been forced to quit school, she said.
Officially, 50 people have died from the new coronavirus in Yemen and infections have been reported in 10 of country’s 22 governorates.
“But testing and reporting remain limited and it is likely that most areas of the country are already impacted, if not all,” the United Nations reports.
Yemen has been engulfed in war since 2014 between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who control several regions including the capital Sanaa, and the government backed by a coalition led since 2015 by Saudi Arabia.