Sun, 16 May 2021

ISTANBUL, April 13 (Xinhua) -- Turkey welcomed on Tuesday the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid the increasing daily number of COVID-19 cases.

Most of the COVID-19-related restrictions are still in place in the country following a spike in infections, although a normalization process was launched on March 1.

Despite a mass inoculation drive launched in mid-January, the daily cases of over 55,000 have made the record since the start of the outbreak over a year ago.

Some health professionals said the reopening in March was premature and called for a full lockdown during Ramadan.

"We may face a scenario where there could be few beds in intensive care units. We must all be very careful," Pinar Saip, the Istanbul head of Turkey's Medical Association (TTB), told the local press.

Saip urged the authorities to accelerate the vaccination program, which has so far administrated nearly 19 million shots in total, according to official data.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said that the plan was to vaccinate every citizen over the age of 40 by the end of June and those over 20 by the end of July.

However, misconceptions toward vaccinations appear to prevail in the country. Some 25 percent of people who are eligible for inoculation have not received their jabs yet, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, almost 40 percent of all cases were reported in Istanbul, Turkey's busiest city with a population of over 16 million.

The minister said that Ramadan offers an opportunity for reducing cases, signaling new stricter measures.

"There is frustration as it is the second time we have to celebrate this month under strict measures, but there is nothing else can be done," Cevdet Albay, aged 65, told Xinhua, as he was buying groceries in Istanbul's historic Eminonu neighborhood.

It is custom to gather in houses with friends or close relatives for the fast-breaking suppers in the evening. However, the authorities have urged the population to refrain from such a behavior to curb the spread of the virus.

The government earlier announced a set of restrictions for Ramadan, including weekend lockdowns for all 81 provinces and weeknight curfews.

Restaurants and cafes will also be shut down except for meal and food delivery to customers by their own staff, instead of takeaways.

The authorities also banned mass dinners during Ramadan, a tradition that sometimes brings hundreds together.

"We aim to decrease the case numbers in Ramadan. Otherwise, we may suffer in the summer, especially in tourism season," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference last week.

Tourism workers have begun to be vaccinated ahead of the summer season while first groups of foreign travelers are gradually welcomed in the Mediterranean and Aegean coastal provinces.

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