Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that the country will be heading into its first full lockdown. An early success story, this time last year Turkey was being hailed as a model for its swift actions that ensured the country saw a relatively small death-toll, relative to its size (39,000 people in Turkey have died so far in the course of the pandemic). Now infections are surging: Turkey recorded a total of 61,028 daily cases of Covid-19 and 346 deaths last Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began. And Erdogan is panicking.
There was some hubris in Erdogan’s early declarations of victory against the virus last year. The ‘common view both domestically and internationally is that Turkey will become one of the star countries of the world that will be reshaped in the wake of the pandemic,’ Erdogan said last summer.
Like every leader who made similar declarations (say, his Greek counterpart), it has come back to bite him.
The country has previously imposed restrictions against Covid-19, but these have not been as rigorous as in other countries. Turkey’s fragile financial position – with double-digit inflation and a currency which has plummeted in value – meant that when these measures were introduced, government assistance was limited.
As a result, businesses quickly ran into trouble and some people were effectively left without any source of income. Turkey was forced to open up again: restrictions were eased in early March, allowing restaurants and cafes to re-open in certain regions. New cases shot up, and last Sunday, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the chair of the Turkish Medical Association, warned of a possible collapse of the country’s usually robust healthcare system.
In response to the worsening situation, Erdogan initially announced a partial lockdown two weeks ago.