Turkey's first coronavirus case shuts schools, impacts sports

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish schools will be closed for one week and universities for three weeks from March 16 and sports events will be held without spectators until end-April, Turkey said on Thursday, stepping up its response to coronavirus after its first reported case.

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Turkey confirmed its first coronavirus infection on Wednesday, becoming the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “vigilant, cautious” measures.

“We have the ability to overcome this period together, God willing, without becoming complacent or panicking,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference to announce the moves.

“When you look at the global picture, we can see that the measures taken in Turkey are effective,” he said after President Tayyip Erdogan chaired a meeting of ministers at the presidential palace to discuss Ankara’s response to the pandemic.

Erdogan’s foreign visits will be postponed for an unspecified period of time due to the spread of the virus, while state officials will have to seek permission to travel abroad, Kalin also said.

He said primary, middle and secondary schools would be closed for one week and after that students will receive remote online tuition for another week from March 23.

Until Wednesday’s announcement of a coronavirus case, Turkey had officially managed to avoid an outbreak, though all its neighbors except war-ravaged Syria had reported cases. Iran has an especially high number of cases and deaths.

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Kalin said that the patient who tested positive was in a good condition and that there was also no problem with others who had been quarantined.

Despite having only one confirmed case, Turkey is poised to stretch its central bank and public finances even more to defend the economy and tourism sector from the pandemic, having already unleashed massive stimulus to recover from a 2018 currency crisis.

Turkey is the world’s sixth-largest tourist destination but waves of travel restrictions and cancellations could pinch a sector that accounts for some 12% of the import-dependent economy, analysts said.

Ankara has said that all 81 of its provinces are geared up to handle a potential outbreak and that it has set up seven test centers across the country.

Turkey says it has developed its own testing kit, which it is exporting to other countries, to get faster results. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said Turkey used a combination of its own kit and the global PRC method for testing.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker