Turkey recorded the highest number of deaths in a single day since the start of the coronavirus pandemic during what public health officials have said is the country’s third wave of the outbreak.
The health ministry on Wednesday reported 362 fatalities and nearly 62,000 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours. Turkey has the world’s second-highest number of new cases after India.
Officials have blamed new variants of the virus for the high infection rate. The health minister said this week intensive care units at hospitals in Istanbul, the country’s biggest city that accounts for about 40 per cent of cases, are almost at two-thirds of their capacity.
The surge comes as Turkey expanded its vaccination programme this week to include people aged 55 and up. But the Turkish Medical Association, the largest professional group for doctors, said appointments are difficult to obtain “because it is obvious there is not enough vaccines at hand”.
Some 20.6m vaccine doses have been administered since mid-January, but just under 10 per cent of the population has received both doses, according to health ministry figures.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to avoid full lockdowns to protect the $717bn economy but last week shut restaurants, ended most in-person school classes and extended night time and weekend curfews.
In an attempt to keep its tourism industry afloat, foreign visitors are exempt from the curfew. The US state department raised its travel advisory for Turkey and about 100 other countries to “do not travel” because of the severity of the outbreak.
The interior minister, who oversees the police force, said this week he would show “no compassion” and cancel the residence permits of foreign nationals living in Turkey who break the curfew by pretending to be tourists. Turkish citizens caught violating the curfew will be fined about $360.