16 Million Workers Estimated as Exempt From Turkey's National COVID-19 Lockdown

Some 16 million workers in Turkey are estimated to be exempt form the country's strict new three-week COVID-19 lockdown order as virus cases and deaths reach record highs.

The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey estimated that millions of workers—including health care workers, law enforcement officers, factory and agriculture workers, as well as supply chain and logistic company employees—will be free to continue work despite a nationwide effort to mostly ban people from leaving their homes and halt activity due to a rise in coronavirus outbreaks.

The new lockdown went into effect on Thursday evening and will last until May 17 as the country grapples with its worst infection rates to date.

By Friday, Turkey had recorded over 4.7 million virus cases and 39,739 deaths since the start of the pandemic, making it the fifth-worst-hit country in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Turkey Lockdown
Some 16 million workers in Turkey are estimated to be exempt form the country's strict new three-week COVID-19 lockdown order as virus cases and deaths reach record highs. Above, a man closes the gate to an historical market shopping area ahead of the the start of the three-week lockdown on April 29, 2021, in Istanbul, Turkey. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Under the restrictions—which span the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, as well as the three-day Eid holiday—residents are banned from leaving their homes except to shop for groceries or to meet other essential needs. Intercity travel requires special permits.

The streets of Ankara and Istanbul were quieter than usual. Nevertheless, workers exempted from the bans filled subways cars and buses in Istanbul, broadcaster Halk TV reported.

Police patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints at main intersections to ensure that residents who were out and about had documents proving they are exempted from the stay-home order. Gendarmerie police were, meanwhile, stopping vehicles to ensure passengers had the necessary permits for intercity travel, causing long lines of vehicles.

Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said more than 19,000 law enforcement officers would be on duty during the lockdown, and that more than 300 checkpoints would be set up.

This is the first nationwide lockdown lasting nearly three weeks. Erdogan's government had previously imposed partial, shorter-term lockdowns or weekend curfews in a bid to reduce the closures' impact on the economy.

It was imposed after the country saw confirmed COVID-19 infections averaging around 60,000 per day during the peak week earlier this month. The country also recorded its highest daily death toll on April 21, with 362 fatalities. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government aims to reduce infections to around 5,000 per day.

The lockdown comes as Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said this week that Turkey was faced with a vaccine shortage in the next two months and announced that the government was extending the interval between the two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to between six and eight weeks, from the previous 28 days.

Erdogan, however, contradicted Koca, saying the country had no problem with its vaccine supplies. Turkey was set to receive large amounts of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia as well as more consignments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he said. He predicted that Turkey's own vaccines would be produced around September or October.

Turkey has administered more than 22.5 million doses since mid-January when it rolled out its vaccination campaign. Some 9 million people have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

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Turkey COVID lockdown
Some 16 million workers in Turkey are estimated to be exempt form the country's strict new three-week COVID-19 lockdown order as virus cases and deaths reach record highs. Above, workers at a pastry shop wait for customers on a virtually deserted Istiklal Street, the main shopping street in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 30, 2021. Emrah Gurel/Associated Press