The streets of Istanbul were abuzz, the grocery stores packed, the seaside promenades crowded — but it was not the bustle of an ordinary spring Thursday. People were flocking to take advantage of the last day before a new lockdown takes hold, the strictest in Turkey since the pandemic began.
Daily reports of new coronavirus cases rose swiftly in the country after the government started lifting earlier safety strictures in March, and are now generally around 40,000 a day, according to official figures, with some days reaching 60,000 or more. The health care system is swamped with patients, and the country set a grim record last week with 362 Covid deaths reported in a single day.
The country’s heath minister, Fahrettin Koca, has said that more contagious variants of the virus are partly to blame for the accelerating spread. Critics say the government relaxed too soon in March, before the country had made much progress with vaccination.
Turkey has fully vaccinated only about 11 percent of its people so far — 8.8 million out of a population of 83 million — using mainly the CoronaVac vaccine developed in China and the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. It has had a hard time securing more doses, and has resorted to postponing second doses to stretch its supply. But Mr. Koca said he expects 30 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine in June, and to soon add the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia to its effort.
61 percent of all workers in Turkey are employed in sectors that are exempt from the lockdown, including manufacturing, construction, agriculture and transportation.