Ramadan Mass Gatherings Face Restrictions as COVID Surges in Turkey

Turkey has reimposed lockdown restrictions for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Monday night.

"We will have to make some sacrifices during the month of Ramadan," Erdogan said in a televised address. Mass gatherings for meals before sunrise and after sunset will be banned during Ramadan, which starts on April 13. Restaurants and bars will be permitted to serve takeout and nighttime curfew across Turkey will remain in place.

The infection rate has spiked since Turkey pulled back COVID-19 restrictions and divided the country's 81 provinces into four color-coded categories based on the number of cases. As of March 2, only 17 provinces were in the "red" category and Turkey reported about 65 deaths per day, the Associated Press reported.

By Monday, that number had increased to 58, or 80 percent of the population, Erdogan said. The number of deaths had risen to 150 per day.

Turkey reimposed COVID-19 restrictions amid the Ramadan holiday following a sharp increase in infections. In the photo, customers eat at a restaurant in Besiktas in Istanbul on March 2, 2021, after the country lifted restrictions measures against the COVID-19 pandemic in regions with lower infection rates. OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

The Turkish Medical Association meanwhile, blamed the increase in infections on inadequate contact-tracing, the government's reluctance to impose measures in a timely manner out of economic concerns as well as the premature relaxing of the restrictions.

"We, as healthcare professionals and society, are paying for these wrong policies," the group said on Twitter.

Erdogan has come under intense criticism for holding his ruling party's congresses inside packed sport complexes across the country, despite a new surge of COVID-19 cases. He has been accused of double standards for disregarding the government's own social distancing rules. In one such event, Erdogan boasted about the size of the crowds.

Critics say the political rallies have likely contributed to the surge. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters Tuesday that he saw no benefit in "keeping the issue on the agenda."

Variants of the initial coronavirus now account for around 75% of the cases in Turkey, he said.

The minister also said Turkey has received 2.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and is set to receive 1.7 million more within the next 10 days.

Turkey rolled out its inoculation program in January with the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac company. More than 15 million shots have been administered so far. Around 6.7 million people have received two doses.

On Monday, the country reported around 32,400 infections. The total number of cases in the country since the start of the outbreak last year stands at more than 3.2 million. The COVID-19 death toll has reached more than 31,000.