By Ezgi Erkoyun
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Wednesday it has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control, two months after it first erupted across the country, and will set out new social guidelines and business practices to prevent any resurgence.
Turkey has one of the highest numbers of recorded COVID-19 cases in the world but has kept the death toll well below levels in Western Europe and the United States, and the government is now looking to gradually reopen the economy.
“The coronavirus outbreak is currently under control in Turkey… We aim to eliminate coronavirus in the second phase. We are shifting towards a new way of life,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
He told a news conference the government’s science council would publish guidelines for businesses to follow as they resume operations, setting out precautions to avoid an upswing in new cases.
Turks should also wear masks and respect social distancing in public, as part of a new “controlled social life” that would for example restrict numbers of people allowed into shopping malls and introduce changes at places such as hair dressers.
Around 150,000 people will be scanned across the country next week as part of efforts to assess the latest status of the outbreak, he added.
The number of cases rose by 2,253 on Wednesday, less than half the level at the peak of the outbreak in mid-April. But it was the second day showing a slight increase in confirmed cases, highlighting a continued threat of further spread.
Turkey’s total number of confirmed cases, at more than 131,000, is the highest outside the United States, Western Europe, and Russia, but its death toll of 3,584 is relatively low per capita compared to most of those countries.
A total of 78,202 people have so far recovered from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
Koca said Turkey will increase its testing capacity, currently running between 30,000 and 40,000 most days, and continue contact tracing efforts which officials credit in part with getting control over the outbreak.
On Monday President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was starting to reduce coronavirus containment measures, lifting inter-city travel restrictions in seven provinces and easing a curfew imposed on the elderly and people less than 20 years old.
Shopping malls, barber shops and some stores will be allowed to open on May 11 provided they abide by so-called normalisation rules, and universities would return to their academic calendar on June 15, he said.
All main Turkish automotive factories will resume operations as of May 11, Industry Minister Mustafa Varank said on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Can Sezer and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)