Turks stream out for first lockdown-free weekend in nearly two months

Bulent Usta
Turkish police officers wearing face masks patrol at touristic Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul

By Bulent Usta

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turks streamed outside on Saturday for their first weekend without a coronavirus lockdown in nearly two months, the day after President Tayyip Erdogan suddenly scrapped a stay-at-home order.

Cafes, restaurants and other facilities had reopened on Monday as infection rates slowed and restrictions on intercity travel had been lifted as the infection rate slowed. But Erdogan had intended to maintain the weekend lockdown, applied to big cities since April 11, until a public backlash.

On Saturday, people flooded beaches and shores in Istanbul, and hundreds queued to get into parks. Others bought ice cream in the warm weather - under new hygiene rules. In the capital, Ankara, daytrippers caused traffic jams.

"The last time I was here was 70 days ago," said Gulay Cevik, a housewife in Istanbul who was fishing in the Eminonu district. "I would always come here to fish, but since the outbreak we've had to protect ourselves a bit. But I really missed it."

Cevdet Akaydan, a 23-year-old public servant, was out swimming with his friends along the shore in western Istanbul.

"It's really nice, very clean and cool right now, it relaxes you," he said. "Everyone should come, and go in ... You can't explain it, you have to experience it."

However, Erdogan has expressed concern that infections could rebound. On Friday, 930 new cases were reported, after a drop to 786 earlier in the week. So far, 4,648 people have died from the virus in Turkey, with 168,340 infections.

"You really get giddy like a child. It's lockdown, lockdown, lockdown," said Cem Pehlivan, a textile worker fishing in Istanbul. "Now I feel really good, I'm comfortable and the weather's fine."



(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Kevin Liffey)