Turkey’s Erdoğan opposes ‘last resort’ coronavirus lockdown - columnists

Turkey has refrained from enforcing a full lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus despite the health minister’s recommendation, because of resistance from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, columnist Murat Yetkin said on his blog on Tuesday.

Since Health Minister Fahrettin Koca acknowledged the first COVID-19 diagnosis in Turkey on March 11, the rate of new diagnoses is among the highest in the world, an Oxford University report said.

Turkey has taken measures against the virus, closing businesses and venues, halting flights from dozens of countries and enforcing a curfew on elderly and vulnerable people.

But while a growing number of countries are imposing comprehensive lockdowns, Turkey has held back from that action because “the Science Board (for the coronavirus) and health minister have been unable to convince Erdoğan,” Yetkin said.

Experts say a lockdown is a sure way to reduce the spread of the virus, which has an extremely high rate of infectivity and can be passed on by people who remain asymptomatic.

The reason this restriction has not yet been imposed in Turkey is not known, but it may be over the president’s reluctance to enlist the army to control Turkish cities’ streets, Yetkin said. Erdoğan survived an attempted military coup in 2016.

Otherwise, Erdoğan may fear losing support from business leaders who will be affected by a lockdown, or he may be ideologically opposed to this course of action, he added.

A comprehensive lockdown should be a last resort since it would bring the country’s economy grinding to a halt, said Hande Fırat, a popular columnist for Hürriyet newspaper. Hürriyet’s owners in the Demirören Group are known for their close ties with the government through a series of public projects.

“How long could the state and private sector bear (a full-scale lockdown)? What would its effects be and how long would they last?” Fırat asked.

Instead, she said, people should respect the rules and recommendations already imposed by the government so that those who must go to work are not put at risk, she said.

Nevertheless, the option of a lockdown is still on the table and one will be imposed as soon as the situation requires it, said Abdulkadir Selvi, another Hürriyet columnist known for his close ties with Turkey’s ruling party.

“They are trying to overcome this problem without imposing a lockdown, but the decision will be made according to the data coming in from the field,” said Selvi.