A man is shown wearing a face mask and standing in the doorway of a sightseeing store with maps of Istanbul on the windows.

Turkey announces full lockdown ahead of Eid celebrations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced a full lockdown for nearly three weeks as the country experiences a surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The lockdown comes as Muslims get ready to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

The World

Ryan Alexander Belmont works at the “U Can Travel” agency in Istanbul that offers tours and sightseeing packages. Belmont is from Columbia and he moved to Turkey last year to explore the country and culture. “Sometimes it feels like we are in a cage,” he said about the on-again-off-again lockdowns. “There are a lot of restrictions and you don’t feel free. But we all have to work together to end this disease.”

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Kemal Kirdar, 55, owns a souvenir store in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul.

He sells fridge magnets, ceramics, colored lamps and T-shirts that say, “I love Istanbul.”

“There are fewer tourists, and business is slow. We had to close down for three months.”

Kemal Kirdar, souvenir store owner, Istanbul

“There are fewer tourists,” Kirdar said, “and business is slow. We had to close down for three months.”

That’s in the wake of the pandemic and lockdowns to contain the coronavirus. This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a full lockdown, the strictest so far as the country combats a surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Related: This center in Turkey was a refuge for Syrian youth. The pandemic shut it down.

The official COVID-19-related death toll in Turkey stands at roughly 39,000. The Health Ministry reported more than 37,000 new cases on Monday.

A man is shown wearing a face mask and khaki vest while standing in an aisle with colorful lamps.

Kemal Kirdar owns a souvenir shop in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. He had to lay off four employees because of the pandemic. Now, his son helps him at the store.

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Özge Sebzeci/The World

The lockdown took effect on April 29 and goes until May 17. People will have to stay home, except for essential shopping and emergency medical care. Schools will be closed and all travel between cities will require official approval. Officials also banned alcohol sales, which prompted some social media users to show their disapproval online using the hashtag “don’t touch my alcohol.”

The announcement of a full lockdown for nearly three weeks is bad news for many businesses. Istanbul, a city that relies heavily on tourism, has already lost so much business this year because of the pandemic.

The latest data from the country’s tourism office show that the number of tourists who arrived in Turkey in February 2021 dropped about 69% compared to the previous year.

Limited support

Kirdar worries about the fact that this week’s restrictions came with no stimulus package.

Related: Afghans who fled to Turkey are worried — and hopeful — about the prospect of peace at home

Last year, the government offered some assistance, including the 60% payment of staff salaries for about 300,000 small businesses for three months and some relief on tax and electricity bills.

But Kirdar said none of that reached him. He said every time he is forced to shut down, he loses money. Not to mention that he has to pay the rent and all of the other bills.

A man is shown with a face mask and standing in front of a wall of brightly colored lamps.

Kemal Kirdar at his souvenir shop in Istanbul.

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Özge Sebzeci/The World

He used to employ four workers but he had to let them go and asked his son to help out at the store.

The lockdown is also coming at one of the busiest times of the year for businesses. Bayram or the Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration when people shop and families get together.

Kirdar is missing out on this income, too.

“We usually get a lot of local tourists around the Ramadan holiday. But not this year.”

Kemal Kirdar, souvenir store owner, Istanbul

“We usually get a lot of local tourists around the Ramadan holiday,” he said. “But not this year.”

According to the World Bank, Turkey responded quickly to the pandemic. But the shock to household incomes could mean the country’s poverty rate will climb from about 10% to 14%.

‘I miss my job’

As soon as Erdoğan made the lockdown announcement this week, there was a rush in Istanbul.

Related: Syrian children in Lebanon are ‘being robbed of their futures’

Cars clogged the streets near the Grand Bazaar. Shoppers darted from one store to another trying to stock up on groceries for the two-week lockdown.

Two men are shown wearing face masks and standing next to a large display of sweets.

Tuncay Öner and his colleague Aziz Raguig sell spices and Turkish sweets in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Aziz says he misses meeting tourists from all over the world. “In the past, the world used to come to us,” he said. Tourism in Turkey has been hit hard because of the pandemic.

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Özge Sebzeci/The World

Tuncay Öner, 57, has worked at a spice store in the Grand Bazaar for 25 years. He says in all that time, he has never seen the place looking like this — one day quiet and the next, people rushing to the store.

Öner was planning to travel to the province to visit relatives for Eid. But now, with the new restrictions, he said he is going to stay home with his wife and three children.

“We had a lot of fun with the children. But it’s too much,” he said with a chuckle. “Everybody wants to go to the school or we want to go to work. And we have like, 15 to 20 more days [of lockdown].”

Öner said his customers are usually good at wearing masks, and that when he sees videos of people burning their masks in protest in the US or European countries, he is confused.

“I think the mask is for our safety. That’s why we wear it. No problem,” he said.

Related: This photographer tells the story of Syria’s war through the eyes of children

Aziz Raguig works at the same store. He said the best part about his job is meeting people from different cultures. But these encounters have been in short supply recently.

“I miss my job. I miss my activity. I miss lots of things.”

Aziz Raguig, spice store worker, Istanbul

“I miss my job. I miss my activity. I miss lots of things,” he said.

Raguig, who is from Morocco, loves showing tourists what Turkey has to offer.

“The tourists invest a lot of time and money to come here,” he said, “to find a new perspective. I see it as my job to help them with that.”

“But I, too, learn from interacting with people from different cultures,” he went on to say.

Bringing the numbers down

Despite the challenges that the lockdown brings, some people are hopeful that it will help the country recover from COVID-19 sooner than later.

For restaurant owner Hüseyin Güvenç, the lockdown is necessary to get Turkey back on track.

A man is shown with a salt and pepper beard and wearing a black shirt with an illustration of a chef behind him.

Hüseyin Güvenç owner of the Güvenç konyali family restaurant. He says he sees the two-week full lockdown in Turkey as necessary to slow down the pandemic.

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“The number of cases are too high,” Güvenç said, sitting at a table in his family-run restaurant, a caricature painting of him on the wall behind him.

Although the sacrifices he and others have had to make are painful — he had to pare down some employees’ hours to retain everyone — he is willing to do whatever it takes to do his part to curb COVID-19.

“The government has to take action to bring the numbers down. Hopefully, the lockdown will help,” he added.

A man is shown wearing a blue shirt and gray aprin while handling a flat bread-like dish.

Workers at the Güvenç konyali family restaurant prepare Turkish dishes.

Credit:

Özge Sebzeci/The World