Istanbul residents ignore virus rules on first weekend out

ISTANBUL (AP) — Istanbul residents flocked to the city’s shores and parks on the first weekend with no coronavirus lockdown, prompting a reprimand from the country’s Health Minister who warned that the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a threat.

Images on social media and in the news media on Sunday showed crowds packed along Istanbul’s Bosporus sunbathing and swimming. Videos also showed large groups of people picnicking and partying last Saturday night without heeding social distancing or wearing masks.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted “let’s not normalise too much” and urged people to wear masks and keep their distance.Restaurants, cafes, gyms, parks, beaches and museums began re-opening yesterday and domestic flights resumed. Turkey has reported 4,692 deaths from COVID-19 and 170,132 confirmed cases, according to the latest figures released on Sunday.

Koca tweeted that contact tracing revealed 58 new infections were caused by a send-off gathering for a soldier, and a separate visit by well-wishers to someone who was sick led to 150 additional cases.

A decision by the Interior Ministry to continue a weekend curfew in 15 provinces, including Istanbul, was overturned last Friday by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a series of tweets.

He said he was reversing the decision on grounds that it would “lead to different social and economic consequences”.

Turkey opted for short weekend and holiday curfews during the pandemic instead of a total lockdown, fearing the negative effects on its already troubled economy.

People 65 and older and minors still are barred from leaving their homes except for allotted times during the week. Senior citizens were allowed out on Sunday.

The Health Minister said earlier this week that 93 per cent of the dead are above 65.

File photo shows people walking on Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul, Turkey. PHOTO: AP