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Coronavirus: Turkey threatens mask manufacturers with seizure over hoarding

Threat comes as death toll in the country reaches 30, with doctors complaining about a lack of protective gear
A woman wears a protective face mask as she walks on Galata bridge in Istanbul on 13 March 2020 (AFP)
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Ankara

Turkey's government has threatened medical mask manufacturers with seizure if they don't stop hoarding and start selling their products to the health ministry, as the death toll from the new coronavirus increased to 30 over the weekend.

Turkish police forces raided factories nationwide over the weekend and handed a warning to the business owners over the lack of products in the market, with Turkey grappling with a rising number in Covid-19 cases, which has reached 1,236.

"Some of the manufacturers stockpile the masks. We warned them again on Sunday night to sign contracts with the Ministry of Health. We would like to buy [the masks] with payment, with good money," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a live interview broadcast on Instagram on Sunday night.

'They have 10-12 hours, [otherwise] we seize their factories'

- Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu

"If not, we have other authorities, we would never hesitate to use them. They have 10-12 hours, [otherwise] we seize their factories."

Some doctors, speaking anonymously to opposition paper Cumhuriyet on Monday, complained that they were in need of disposable masks and protective gear in some state hospitals.

Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said during a news conference that the government signed a deal with 20 mask manufacturers, and said additional measures will be taken against the manufacturers who do not cooperate.

A Turkish official with knowledge on the negotiations with the mask manufacturers had told Middle East Eye that producers were likely to sign a deal with the health ministry following the threat of seizure.

Koca added that the country has received 50,000 rapid coronavirus test kits, which provide results in 15 minutes, from China, with another 300,000 to arrive on Thursday.

Turkey has already passed a series of strict measures to curb an outbreak of the virus, including closing down schools, universities and mosques. It has also banned flights from more than 40 different countries, including the UK, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

In addition to these measures, the interior ministry declared a curfew for senior citizens aged 65 years old and above, and other citizens with chronic conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. 

Turkey has indefinitely postponed all sports events, including professional football leagues. The government announced a $15.5bn stimulus package last week to support families and businesses affected by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The government also plans to short-track a law to release about 100,000 inmates from overpopulated prisons to stop the contagion. 

Ankara has also said it would hire 32,000 additional medical workers to help with the extra load of patients in the country's hospitals, and will begin the mass production of medical ventilators, which would aid patients who have difficulty breathing due to the virus.

Turkey has said that some patients have made a recovery from the coronavirus, and will give an update at a later point.