Turkey postpones events until end-April over coronavirus

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree on Friday postponing all events related to science, culture and art, as Turkey seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.

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The country’s death toll has reached four, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Thursday, after an 85-year-old woman died of the highly contagious respiratory illness, and the doctors’ association called for more tests.

The number of confirmed cases in the country has surged since the first case was announced last week, reaching 359 on Thursday. The cases have roughly doubled every day since Sunday.

Koca said Turkey had conducted 1,981 tests in 24 hours to midnight Thursday, 168 of which came back positive.

The decree published in the Official Gazette on Friday said all meetings and activities, indoors or outdoors, related to science, culture, art and other similar fields would be postponed until the end of April.

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) told Reuters on Friday that in order to see where Turkey really stands in terms of the outbreak, the number of tests should be increased.

“We have only carried out around 10,000 tests. Only after tens of thousands of tests, if we can see a proportional decline, we will know if we are successful or not,” said TTB vice chairman Ali Cerkezoglu.

State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as saying on Thursday that a total of 9,800 people had been quarantined.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turks should stay home for at least three weeks, but did not ask them to stay away from work.

Ankara has suspended flights to 20 countries, closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues.

To alleviate the economic impacts of the virus, the central bank cut its policy rate by 100 basis points to 9.75%, while the government revealed a $15 billion package to support businesses.

Clothing retailers shuttered, dimming the economy’s prospects and raising questions for hundreds of thousands of workers. Malls, with some 530,000 employees and annual turnover of $160 billion, were set to follow suit.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Can Sezer; Editing by Dominic Evans