Lines of traffic stretched from the Asian side of the Bosporus bridge in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul on Monday morning, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, underscoring the risks Turkey may be taking in easing COVID-19 restrictions.
Cases of the coronavirus are spiking again in Turkey, mirroring increases in some other major countries, raising concerns for public health. On Sunday, Mustafa Hasöksüz, a member of a government-chaired committee responsible for combatting the virus, warned of a third wave of the infection, saying cases were increasing sharply in some western and Black Sea regions.
In Istanbul, crowds of people gathered in streets, coastlines and parks on Saturday on the second weekend after restrictions were eased. Restaurants and cafes were also open, news website Bianet reported.
Daily cases of the coronavirus in Turkey rose to 13,378 on Sunday, hovering near the highest levels since December, according to Health Ministry data. The total number of infections passed 2.87 million in the country of 85 million people, ranking it ninth globally.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government relaxed COVID-19 rules at the start of the month, allowing restaurants and cafes to re-open in many parts of the country. He also promised that a vaccination programme would gather pace amid public concern that his administration has failed to secure inoculations in sufficient numbers.
Turkey ranks 70th globally in COVID-19 tests per million people, lower than every major EU country apart from the Netherlands, according to Worldometer figures. It has secured around 15 million vaccines, mostly from China.
Turkey is “among the leaders of the world” in terms of its vaccination campaign, Erdoğan said on Sunday.
Bianet said an uptick in cases could mean that restrictions in Istanbul are tightened for the coming weekend. Istanbul’s case count per 100,000 people stood at 111.57 between Feb. 27 and March 5, defining it as a “very high” risk zone, according to Health Ministry definitions.
The spike in cases in Turkey comes ahead of the tourism season. The country is hoping to attract visitors to help boost economic growth and finance its current account deficit, which has pressured the value of the Turkish lira. The lira slumped to a record low in November after tourism revenue slumped.
Turkish Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said on Monday that travellers from Britain could be among the first to not require a negative PCR test when visiting the country. The government may lift the requirement for Brits on April 15, he said, according to Anadolu. Turkey would consider similar benefits for tourists from other countries, depending on progress on vaccinating their respective populations, he said.
Turkey has also announced a vaccination programme for its tourism workers to ensure safe holidays, Anadolu said.
Competition for tourists among countries in Europe is hotting up as the season approaches.
Neighbouring Greece said it plans to re-open the country to vaccinated EU and non-EU tourists on May 14. A group of EU governments is pushing for a relaxation in restrictions on travellers from outside the bloc, Bloomberg reported on Saturday. Some EU nations including France have already relaxed restrictions on travel from some countries.