Turkey eases COVID-19 restrictions but keeps many curfews

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A woman takes a picture by the Golden Horn, leading to the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe and Asia, in Istanbul, Friday, May 14, 2021.Turkey is in the final days of a full coronavirus lockdown and the government has ordered people to stay home and businesses to close amid a huge surge in new daily infections. But millions of workers are exempt and so are foreign tourists. Turkey is courting international tourists during an economic downturn and needs the foreign currencies that tourism brings to help the economy as the Turkish lira continues to sink. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s interior ministry on Sunday lifted a full lockdown that had ordered people to stay home to fight COVID-19 infections, shifting to a less-restrictive program that still involved curfews on weeknights and weekends.

In a new directive, the ministry called the steps that apply from Monday to June 1 a “gradual normalization.”

Shopping malls will be able to reopen. Some businesses will remain closed, including gyms and cafes, but restaurants will be able to offer take away in addition to delivery. Preschools will resume in-person education but upper grades will continue remote learning.

Turks can return to their workplaces but will have to stay home from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of walking to a market to buy food. Civil servants will continue working remotely or in shifts in offices. Foreign tourists and workers with special permits are exempt.

Unvaccinated senior citizens over 65 will only be allowed to leave their homes between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. Intercity travel during curfews is subject to permission.

Despite the curfew, hundreds of soccer fans were out in Istanbul late Saturday to celebrate the Super League win for Besiktas.

New infections and COVID-19 deaths exploded after Turkey lifted most restrictions in March, prompting the government to introduce a full lockdown at end of April. It was the strictest measure the government had taken since the beginning of the pandemic, following record new cases above 60,000 a day.

Health ministry statistics showed 11,472 new cases reported Saturday and an overall confirmed death toll of 44,537. Experts say both numbers, like in many nations, are undercounts due to limited testing and missed cases.

Turkey’s president said the COVID-19 restrictions aimed to reduce new cases to below 5,000 a day so that Turkey’s vital tourism industry wouldn’t be devastated for a second straight summer.

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