Turkey has entered its first national coronavirus lockdown as infection rates continue to climb in the country, now the highest in Europe.
The lockdown began on Thursday at 7:00pm local time and will last through the remainder of the month of Ramadan and over the Eid al Fitr holiday. It is scheduled to end at 5:00am, local time on May 17.
On Thursday, streets across the country’s main cities were packed with people preparing for the weeks ahead, with traffic accidents and lines of traffic reported across the country’s main Anatolian Highway.
Turkey initially responded to a surge in Covid-19 infections back in early April, when the country recorded its highest daily cases and deaths with more than 60,000 daily new cases by tightening some Covid-19 restrictions. But on Monday, the government took that step further by announcing the national lockdown.
On Thursday Turkey recorded 37,674 new Covid-19 cases and 339 deaths, according to data published on worldometers’ tracker.
The lockdown comes as the country faces expected delays in its vaccine rollout, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.
To counter any delays in the campaign over the next two months, Koca said the government had consequently decided to space out the two doses for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
The doses will be now be administered six to eight weeks apart instead of the current interval of 28 days, the health minister said.
Koca added that there is also concern around the import of one of the variants first identified in India, known as B1.617.
“We identified 5 cases of the Indian variant in Istanbul. Those cases have been isolated and are under observation” Koca said.
Meanwhile, the highly transmissive UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, continues to be the most prevalent in Turkey, he said.