ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Flights and car travel resumed between Turkey’s big cities on Monday and cafes, restaurants and Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar reopened in the country’s biggest step to ease restrictions taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Traffic levels jumped in the commercial hub of Istanbul, with many Turks returning to work as the government sought to revive an economy hit hard by the pandemic. Employees of government offices and public facilities joined the many factory workers who restarted last month.
Masked shopkeepers opened and cleaned their stores at the Grand Bazaar, which media reports said was the scene of one of Turkey’s first virus outbreaks in March. A key tourist destination, the sprawling covered market was closed for more than two months.
“We have completed the necessary preparations and we are waiting for customers from abroad. Our business is dependent on tourism,” said Huseyin Ozdemir, a spice shop owner at the Grand Bazaar. “Hopefully, everything will be good.”
Parks, gyms, beaches, libraries and museums also re-opened, but not everyone felt comfortable returning to daily life despite measures to minimise infection risks.
“We are bored of being at home and we feel the need to return to normal but if you want to ask me whether I feel safe or whether I feel normal, no,” said Aziz Arslan, an architect in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
The COVID-19 disease has killed more than 4,500 and infected more than 160,000 in Turkey, though new cases and deaths are sharply down and President Tayyip Erdogan’s government says the outbreak is under control.
Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu sought to reassure passengers at a ceremony to mark the first regular flight from Istanbul to the capital Ankara in two months.
“We are entering a period of travel focused on isolation, from the entry into airports until the exit from them,” he said on television, adding six domestic airports had so far been certified to meet hygiene and safety standards.
International flights are expected to start next week. Turkish Airlines said it expects a slow recovery in global demand towards the end of summer, but predicts a 60% drop in passenger numbers this year compared to initial expectations.
Additional reporting by Umit Ozdal in Diyarbakir, Bulent Usta and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Canan Sevgili in Gdansk, Mert Ozkan and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Janet Lawrence