Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 59, with 2,433 confirmed cases - live blog

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 15 more deaths of people with the new coronavirus and announced 561 new cases, raising the total number of people confirmed of being infected to 2,433.

The total number of people who have died with coronavirus in Turkey now totals 59, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

"In the last 24 hours, 5,035 tests were conducted. 561 were diagnosed for the coronavirus. 15 of our patients died. The number of patients we have lost so far is 59. The total number of patients is 2,433” the minister said in his daily Twitter update on the pandemic.

Earlier on Tuesday, Koca said Turkey was starting mass production of respirator devices and would appoint 32,000 new healthcare personnel to tackle the spread of the novel virus.

The Health Ministry has tested more than 24,000 people, but this number may quickly rise after the arrival of 50,000 quick diagnostic kits from China on Monday. A further 300,000 are expected to arrive on Thursday, Koca said.

Early Wednesday, Turkey said it had evacuated over 2,721 of its citizens stranded in seven countries due to the coronavirus.

Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Policies is set to provide approximately 7 billion liras ($1.08 billion) in aid to people on the minimum wage during the coronavirus pandemic, the minister, Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, said on Twitter on Tuesday.

The Interior Ministry also bolstered its measures to enforce social distancing by restricting the number of customers who could enter shops to one person per seven square metres and limiting supermarket business hours to between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. All public transport vehicles will operate at half capacity, the ministry said.

Turkey had already halted incoming flights from dozens of countries and closed a wide range of non-essential businesses and venues, and announced a curfew on elderly and vulnerable citizens over the weekend, though it has refrained from enforcing a full lockdown.

(All times Turkish time - GMT+3)

00:25 - Erdoğan to attend G20 summit on coronavirus pandemic via video conference

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will attend the G20 Leaders Extraordinary Summit on the global coronavirus pandemic on Thursday via video conference, the country's Communications Directorate said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Finance and Treasury Berat Albayrak, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, and Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın will accompany Erdoğan, the directorate said.

23:50 - Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 59, with 2,433 confirmed cases

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 15 more deaths of people with the new coronavirus and announced 561 new cases, raising the total number of people confirmed of being infected to 2,433.

The total number of people who have died with coronavirus in Turkey now totals 59, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

23:15 - 26 COVID-19 patients recover in Turkey

Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 26 patients, tested positive for the coronavirus including two above 60 years old, had recovered and been discharged from hospital.

"Turkey has 1,872 COVID-19 cases and 136 patients under intensive care," Koca said, adding that 102 of them were intubated.

22:35 - Turkish journalist detained for 'spreading fear' over coronavirus report

Turkish police detained a journalist working for İz Haber local newspaper for spreading fear among the public after his report on the deadly coronavirus, T24 said.

Tugay Can was detained after reporting that two healthcare workers in the western province of Izmir were tested positive for COVID-19, and released hours later after he testified, t24 said.

"We will continue to do our job to deliver the right news to the public. On the other hand, the news we made was not denied by any authorised institutions, I will continue to defend the public's right to receive news," Can said.

22:05 - Erdoğan says best way to prevent virus spread is voluntary self-quarantine 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the most efficient way to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus was applying a voluntary self-quarantine.

"Turkey is the first country that took precautions against the coronavirus," he added during his address to the nation.

But the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) has criticised the government earlier for what it said were inadequate measures to stem the spread of the virus, and said the Health Ministry’s approach lacked transparency.

21:00 - Turkey could face food shortages due to coronavirus outbreak, expert says

Agriculture expert Ali Ekber Yıldırım said Turkey risks severe food shortages within a few months due to coronavirus outbreak if the government did not immediately put in place support for agriculture and livestock sectors, Deutsche Welle reported on Wednesday.

19:55 - Turkey extends suspension of schools until end of April

Turkey's Education Minister Ziya Selçuk said the country would extend the closure of schools in the country until April 30.

Education would continue with online and broadcast lessons, Selçuk said, adding that make-up classes would also be held.

The minister also said that entrance exams for high schools and universities could be postponed.

19:40 - Erdoğan announces new coronavirus aid package

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced a $2 trillion a relief package to aid workers, retired employees and the healthcare system. 

"1000 liras cash support will be given to 2 million low-income families. The lowest pension will be increased to 1500 liras. A minimum of 7 billion liras of wage support will be provided to the minimum wage earners. The funds transferred to the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations will be increased to 180 million liras," Erdoğan said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Turkish president said health workers' performance payments will be made from the upper limit for the next three months and 32,000 new health personnel will be employed.

19:05 - Football club Başakşehir President tested positive for coronavirus

Football club Istanbul Başakşehir President Göksel Gümüşdağ was tested positive for the COVID-19, Dokuz8Haber said.

Meanwhile, a total of six players and administrative staff from Istanbul football club Fenerbahçe have tested positive for the deadly virus, it said.

17:45 – Thirty-three year-old doctor dies of coronavirus

Dr. Dilek Tahtalı, the 33-year-old niece of Ramıs Topal, a former lawmaker for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has died in an Istanbul hospital after contracting the coronavirus at the hospital where she worked on March 10.

Tahtalı suffered from underlying conditions including Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, according to a medical document published by Sözcü newspaper.

17:30 – Doctor, bodyguard of coronavirus victim general in intensive care

The military doctor who treated retired General Aytaç Yalman, one of the first people in Turkey to die of the coronavirus, has been taken to intensive care to be treated for the virus, along with the former officer’s bodyguard, BirGün newspaper reported.

17:20 – Turkey sold U.S. 500,000 testing kits, health minister insists

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Wednesday insisted Turkey had sold the United States half a million PCR kits for testing the coronavirus after critics said they had found no sign of the sale.

Koca first discussed the sale during a parliamentary speech on March 19, but a U.S.-based Turkish academic, Ergin Koçyıldırım, said he had looked into the claim and said in an open letter to the health minister he had found no sign of the sale.

But on Wednesday, Koca reiterated during a televised interview with HaberTürk’s Fatih Altaylı that the sale had been made, adding that the sale would not leave Turkey short since it had the capacity to produce 2 million of the kits per month.

17:00 – Long lines await coronavirus test at Istanbul hospital

Turks are lining up outside the Said Konuk hospital in Istanbul’s Bakırköy district to get tested for the novel coronavirus, Diken news site reported.

Lines at Sadi Konuk hospital
Photograph: DHA

16:30 – Fenerbahçe player, medic test positive for coronavirus

Istanbul football club Fenerbahçe said one of its first team players and one of its medical staff had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The pair have been taken to hospital for treatment, the club said on Twitter.

15:40 – Istanbul public transport use drops by 83 percent

Usage of public transport in Turkey’s largest city has fallen by 83 percent in the last three weeks as citizens heed advice to stay at home, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu tweeted on Wednesday.

But this still left some 1.26 million people using public transport on Wednesday, according to the municipal data İmamoğlu shared.

On Tuesday, the government ordered public transport vehicles to cut their passenger capacity by half.

14:30 - 24 family doctors and nurses test positive for coronavirus in Istanbul

Twenty-four family doctors and nurses in Istanbul have tested positive for the coronavirus, the newspaper Milliyet said.

"A couple of our [members] are receiving treatment at hospitals, while the rest are continuing their treatment at home. There is nothing to worry about in terms of the health status of our [members]," Kutbettin Demir, chairman of the Istanbul Family Practitioners Association, told Milliyet.

Demir urged people to stay at home and said health centres were among the riskiest places during the outbreak. "We are telling people to not come unless it’s an emergency," he said.

14:00 - Interior minister says stricter measures may not be necessary for now

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said that stricter moves to combat the coronavirus may not be necessary at the moment in Turkey, as long as people comply with existing measures, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

"If citizens declare their own state of emergency, it may not be necessary to take greater measures for now," he said.

Soylu also said that the number of intercity bus passengers had fallen by 83 percent and that traffic density had decreased by 65 percent in 15 big cities.

13:35 - Football star Didier Drogba confident ex-boss Fatih Terim will overcome coronavirus

Retired footballer Didier Drogba has sent a message of support to Galatasaray’s coach Fatih Terim and vice president Abdurrahim Albayrak after both tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

“I regret to learn that the results of the coronavirus of my esteemed coach emperor Fatih Terim and our vice-president Abdurrahim Albayrak have been positive,” tweeted Drogba, who once starred for the Lions.

“I have an infinite belief that two powerful characters can beat this virus. My prayers are with my coach, my president and all the Turkish people.”

13:20 - Turkey to give 6 million liras financial support to mask makers

Turkish Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank said manufacturers of disinfectants, protective clothing, masks and gloves would be given up to 6 million lira per enterprise to support efforts to fight the coronavirus, reported news site T24.

He also said that Small and Medium Industry Development Organisation fees would be postponed for three months. 

13:15 - Parliament passes new coronavirus measures

The Turkish parliament has passed several new economic measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, Dünya newspaper said.

The authority of the Treasury and Finance Minister to transfer cash resources to credit guarantee institutions or to issue private government bonds will increase from 25 billion liras ($3.9 billion) to 50 billion liras ($7.8 billion). Employers will be provided with a minimum wage support of 2.50 liras ($0.39) daily and 75 liras ($11.7) per month.

Restrictions on the advertising of weapons and stricter penalties on the illegal manufacture of arms were introduced. Investment in renewable energy was also pledged. The payment of electricity and natural gas consumption costs can be delayed up to one year in some areas. 

12:45 - Turkey may start emptying jails in the mid-April, columnist says

Turkey may start releasing prisoners in large numbers in mid-April as part of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, said columnist Abdülkadir Selvi writing in Hürriyet newspaper on Wednesday. 

Selvi said that the prison amnesty process had been accelerated, and that discussions would begin next week at parliament’s Justice Commission, and releases would likely begin in mid-April.

Selvi said that plans agreed by the ruling Justice and Development Party with its ally the Nationalist Action Party were presented to opposition parties at a meeting on Tuesday. 

The opposition People’s Republic Party (CHP) objected to plans to release those convicted of sexual crimes, domestic violence, and drug dealing. The CHP also reportedly called on the government to release imprisoned journalists. 

12:20 - Turkey lifts customs taxes on masks, respirators

Turkey has lifted customs duties on medical masks and respirators as part of its measures to combat the coronavirus, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said on Twitter on Wednesday.

She said the 20-percent customs duty had been lifted on disposable medical masks, as had the 13-percent duty on respiratory devices such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators. The 10 percent duty on ethyl alcohol used in the production of disinfectant and cologne, which some people in Turkey have used as a hand sanitiser due to its high alcohol content, had also been lifted, she said.

11:30 - Turkey evacuates citizens from seven countries

Turkey has evacuated more than 2,000 of its citizens stranded in seven countries due to the coronavirus.

“We have completed the evacuation process of 2,721 students who wanted to return to Turkey from the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Egypt and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus where flights are suspended,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter on Wednesday.

A total of 401 Turkish students coming from Italy arrived in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun, while 142 evacuated from London landed at Istanbul Airport.

All evacuees will be placed in quarantine for 14 days in the provinces of Samsun, or Sakarya, east of Istanbul.

22:50 - Turkey's minimum wage workers to receive $1 billion in gov't support 

Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Policies is set to provide approximately 7 billion liras ($1.08 billion) in aid to the country’s minimum wage workers during the coronavirus pandemic, minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk announced on Twitter.

TBMM Genel Kurulu’nda kabul edilen düzenlemeyle, 7 milyar liraya yakın asgari ücret desteği vereceğiz.

İşçilerimize, işverenlerimize ve ailelerine hayırlı olmasını diliyorum. @TBMMresmi @TBMMGenelKurulu

— Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk (@ZehraZumrutS) March 24, 2020

The move was approved in a regulation passed during a Parliamentary plenary session on Tuesday, Selçuk said.

22:35 - Passenger, trade flow to be temporarily suspended at Turkey-Iran border gate

Passenger entry and exit from a Iran-Turkey border crossing will be temporarily halted from midnight Wednesday, Karar newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The Van governor’s office said in a statement that the coronavirus pandemic in Iran had reached an uncontrollable level and that passenger and trade operations at the Kapıköy border gate had come to a complete halt.

“Given the increasing import and export operations at Kapikoy Railway Border Gate, the personnel working at Kapikoy Land Border Gate will be more efficient and contribute more to our international trade, as a temporary measure to ensure the more effective employment of personnel and health care workers in all units,” the statement said.

21:45 - More Turks fear unemployment than pandemic

A higher percentage of people in Turkey fear becoming unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic more than contracting the COVID-19, according to a study by StratejiCo. and ERA polling companies.

A total of 68 percent fear either themselves or someone in their family becoming unemployed during the outbreak, while 63 percent said they feared the novel virus itself, Dünya newspaper reported.

Of those surveyed, 79 percent said they did not have enough information about the deadly virus.