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Covid-19: Turkey reopens restaurants, schools as infection rates drop

President Erdogan declares the beginning of 'controlled normalisation' policy with the coronavirus
A man feeds seagulls on the shore of the Bosphorus in Istanbul during heavy snowfalls on 14 February 2021 (AFP)

Turkey is beginning to ease coronavirus restrictions from Tuesday in new guidelines distributed to the country’s 81 provinces based on risk levels, according to the interior ministry.

On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said "a new, controlled normalisation is starting", with the country lifting weekend lockdowns in low and medium-risk cities, and limiting the restrictions to just Sundays in high and very high-risk cities.

Turkey, home to 83 million people, has administered nearly 8.9 million shots in its vaccination campaign. More than 7 million people have received their first doses of the CoronaVac jab acquired from the Chinese company Sinovac, while second doses have been given to nearly 2 million people.

The risk categorisation of provinces is based on infection rates and the vaccination process, which began in mid-January.

Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul, was categorised as high risk, while the capital Ankara was in the medium-risk category.

Erdogan said the list of measures would be updated every two weeks on a province-by-province basis.

The country's nationwide curfew from 9.00pm. to 5.00am on weekdays will continue.

On weekends in low- and medium-risk provinces, the curfew will be in place between 9.00pm. to 5.00am., like weekdays.

Schools and restaurants 

The government had shut down all restaurants for indoor dining since November and imposed weekend lockdowns nationwide.

With the new rules, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen between 7am and 7pm at 50 percent capacity, in all provinces except for "very high-risk" ones.

All pre-school education institutions across Turkey, elementary schools, grades 8 through 12 would resume in-person classes as of Tuesday, Erdogan said.

school turkey
Students attend a lesson at a private school in Ankara, on 15 February 2021 (AFP)

Some of Turkey's highest infection rates have been recorded in northern Black Sea regions while the lowest ones are found in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The weekend-long lockdown for Istanbul's 15.5 million residents will be applied to Sunday only. It will be lifted completely for low-risk regions in the southeast.

As of Monday, Turkey registered a total of 28,638 deaths from Covid-19, while over 2.57 million people have recovered from the disease.  So far, there have been over 2.7 million confirmed cases in the country.