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Coronavirus: Turkey Covid-19 deaths exceed 500, health minister says

Medic checks temperature of driver on highway near Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday (Reuters)

Turkey's death toll from the coronavirus pandemic exceeded 500, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Saturday, while the number of cases reached almost 24,000.

Most of Turkey's cases have been registered in the country's economic capital Istanbul, AFP said.

The official figures released by Koca showed 76 more people had died from the coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19, in Turkey over the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 501.

The number of tests performed over the last 24 hours was the most of all so far, at 19,664.

As part of measures to contain the spread of the virus, schools have been closed, flights grounded and gatherings banned.

Turkey stepped up controls Saturday on crowded public spaces including markets and ferries in Istanbul, a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed the use of face masks to curb the coronavirus outbreak. The president called on the population to maintain a distance of "three paces" from each other when outside.

On Friday, Erdogan had issued a mandatory confinement order for everyone under the age of 20 starting from midnight, but has stopped short of declaring a complete lockdown.

The president also said that all residents would be required to wear face masks before entering marketplaces, as he also shut down the borders of 31 cities, including Istanbul, for all vehicles, excluding transit passage and essential supplies.

All public gatherings - even those held outdoors - have been banned, and only essential trips outside of the home for the purchase of food or medicine are allowed, he said. 

"We will impose administrative and criminal fines against those who insist on acting in violation of these measures," Erdogan said during his address to the nation.