Turkey has entered its first national coronavirus lockdown as infection rates continue to climb in the country, now the highest in Europe.
The lockdown began on Thursday at 7 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET) and will last through the remainder of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and over the Eid al Fitr holiday. It is scheduled to end at 5 a.m. local time on May 17, according to a statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Turkey has recorded 37,674 new Covid-19 cases and 339 deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish Health Ministry’s Covid-19 online dashboard.
The nation’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic is 4,788,700, while the total number of deaths is 39,737, according to the ministry.
On Thursday, streets across the country’s main cities were packed with people preparing for the weeks ahead, with traffic accidents and lines of traffic reported across the country’s main Anatolian Highway.
In the seaside town of Ayvalik on Thursday, the streets were thronged with shoppers stocking up on essentials before the three-week lockdown starts.
Hakan Keskin, a vegetable seller at a farmers’ market in Ayavilik told CNN that “there are more people at the market today and they are buying more of everything.” He added Thursday was the “last chance” for vendors such as himself to sell before the “three hard weeks ahead.”
“It’s going to be difficult, our vegetables are going to get old and we won’t be making any money,” he said.
“It’s going to be hard days ahead for us.”
Leyla Ilmen, who was shopping at the farmers’ market, told CNN that there were “more people than usual” and that “everything is more expensive.”
Turkey initially responded to a surge in Covid-19 infections back in early April – when the country recorded its highest daily cases and deaths with more than 60,000 daily new cases – by tightening some Covid-19 restrictions. But on Monday, the government took that step further by announcing the national lockdown.
The lockdown comes as the country faces expected delays in its vaccine rollout, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.
To counter any delays in the campaign over the next two months, Koca said the government had consequently decided to space out the two doses for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
The doses will be now be administered six to eight weeks apart instead of the current interval of 28 days, the health minister said.
Koca added that there is also concern around the import of one of the variants first identified in India, known as B1.617.
“We identified 5 cases of the Indian variant in Istanbul. Those cases have been isolated and are under observation” Koca said.
Meanwhile, the highly transmissive UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, continues to be the most prevalent in Turkey, he said.
CNN’s Isil Sariyuce contributed to this report.