Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Turks losing patience with lockdowns

A sweeping coronavirus lockdown in Turkey sets off arguments and economic anxiety | Washington Post - Kareem Fahim:

May 12, 2021 - "Shopkeepers pulled their steel shutters down last week in a warren of tool shops near the Bosporus, to comply with a nationwide lockdown. But every third shutter or so was left open a crack, to allow the furtive flow of continued commerce. Hardly anyone in Turkey these days can afford to be locked down. Not small-business owners, who were aching from the flailing economy and rocketing inflation even before coronavirus restrictions were imposed last month. And not even the government, which permitted a glaring exception when it said foreign tourists, a critical source of foreign currency, would be allowed to travel the country freely, while telling Turkish citizens to stay home.

"In the 13 days since the lockdown began, the restrictions have set off soaring economic anxiety, arguments and public irritation. With infections and deaths surging to new highs, few disputed the measures were necessary. Rather, complaints have centered on the way they were imposed, with official edicts, viewed as capricious or baffling, that critics say have failed to insulate the country from further economic harm.

"Gurcan Hanoglu, the 43-year-old owner of a shop that sells steel cables, said his earnings would plummet this month by about 70 percent. The only aid the government was offering was a mix of loans and paltry grants. As Hanoglu spoke, a customer called to ask if he could delay paying a bill, a sign of the spreading hardship....

"The lockdown has undermined repeated official assurances that Turkey was faring better than many countries in the world. And the rules, from the well-intentioned to the bizarre, have landed on a public that is in no mood for more restrictions, especially this late in the pandemic. One source of outrage is the latitude given to tourists, shown sunning themselves on beaches while Turks remain sequestered in their homes. Another is an alcohol ban, imposed for vague 'health' reasons, without any official elaboration.

"A government circular issued after the lockdown began prohibited the purchase of 'nonessential' goods commonly sold in supermarkets such as electronics. It appeared to be aimed at preventing crowding in shops. Social media channels filled with photographs of supermarket shelves with items such as menstrual pads and children’s books sealed off from purchase with tape or plastic wrap, showing the confusion the ban had spurred. Behind the anger that such images generated was a sense of deepening economic insecurity. Twenty-seven percent of respondents to a survey released Sunday by MetroPOLL said they 'cannot meet' basic needs....

"The lockdown, which is scheduled to last nearly three weeks, is Turkey’s most sweeping yet. It was imposed after new cases soared to more than 60,000 per day. New virus variants were partly to blame, health officials said, as was an earlier lifting of restrictions that included restaurants being allowed to seat customers indoors.... Halfway through the lockdown, the restrictions appear to be working, as infections have plummeted, according to Health Ministry figures. But the death toll, of between 200 and 300 people a day, has remained stubbornly high....

"Even the country’s speedy vaccination campaign has stumbled. A Chinese company that was contracted to send 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses failed to deliver most of them. Another order, placed with Pfizer for its vaccine with BioNTech, is not expected to arrive until June. Turkey’s foreign minister said this month that people who come into contact with tourists would be vaccinated, a pledge that grated on those waiting their turn. 'If you don’t vaccinate me, I’ll bite tourists,' one tweeted."

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