ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan advised Turks on Wednesday not to leave home unless necessary for three weeks and to minimise social contact until the threat of the coronavirus recedes, but he did not tell them to stay away from work.
Turkey subsequently announced a second coronavirus death and said the number of confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness had nearly doubled to 191 after it ramped up steps to combat the virus’ spread, closing cafes, banning mass prayers and halting flights to 20 countries.
“None of our citizens must leave their homes or get into contact with anyone, unless absolutely necessary, until the threat disappears,” Erdogan said in a speech after a meeting of top officials in Ankara to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our citizens who are going to their offices should directly return to their homes at the end of the business day,” he said.
Erdogan also said Turkey would postpone debt payments and reduce the tax burden on various sectors as part of a 100 billion lira ($15.4 billion) package of new measures to support the economy and lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca later announced the near doubling in COVID-19 cases within one day in Turkey, having more than doubled a day earlier to 98.
“The test results today show that measures are very necessary. There are 93 new diagnosed cases for which treatment has begun,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, the president called on banks not to restrict loans and for companies not to cut jobs, while also vowing to support the national carrier, Turkish Airlines.
Among specific measures, he said Turkey’s accommodation tax was being suspended until November to support the key tourism sector, which accounts for some 12% of the economy.
Debt repayments of companies affected by the coronavirus will be postponed for a minimum of three months, while value-added tax and social security payments for various sectors will also be deferred, Erdogan said.
He added that value-added tax for domestic aviation was cut to 1% from 18% and there would be a doubling to 50 billion lira in the limit of the Treasury-backed credit guarantee fund, which guarantees loans to small- and medium-sized firms.
Turkey has already suspended mass prayer in mosques, temporarily closed cafes, sports and entertainment venues, as well as extended a flight ban to 20 countries, including major European destinations.
Before Wednesday’s meeting Erdogan said the coronavirus was hitting Turkey just as it was recovering from a 2018 lira crisis, but that there would be big opportunities if it could bring the outbreak under control in the coming weeks.
“It is not easy to keep all the wheels of the economy turning while battling coronavirus,” he said at the start of the meeting with ministers, bankers and business leaders.
“If we can manage these few weeks well and inform the nation well and keep the virus under control, we anticipate a good outlook, better than we had hoped,” he added.
Turkey’s economy was hit by a currency crisis in 2018 and the lira has lost more than 40% of its value against the dollar since the end of 2017, including an 8% decline this year as the coronavirus added to its woes.
The economy rebounded strongly in the latter part of last year, growing 6% in the fourth quarter after government steps to boost economic activity.
As part of efforts to keep the economy on track, Turkey’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points on Tuesday at an earlier-than-scheduled policy meeting, and took steps to support volatile financial markets.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Bill Berkrot