Here’s your no-nonsense guide to how COVID-19 lockdown and curfew rules are changing in Turkey, including shopping, outdoor exercise and travel
As Turkey prepares to enter a strict nationwide lockdown in the middle of the month of Ramadan, many citizens and foreigners living in the country have been left confused over the finer details of the curfew that will last 17 days.
Here is a one-stop explainer for all your questions regarding the upcoming lockdown.
The lockdown will be one of the strictest Ankara has imposed since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020. In essence, the country is doing a full circle of its practices last year, when it was praised for being proactive with its measures amid a sea of uncertainties surrounding the then-new coronavirus.
The lockdown will come into effect across all 81 provinces, and except for select people working in key sectors or critical jobs and visiting tourists, everyone will be ordered to stay indoors unless absolutely essential.
As with previous lockdowns, people will only be allowed to go outside of their homes to buy their necessities from the nearest shops on foot. That means any trips to markets or shops that are not within walking distance or that require a car or other vehicles will not be allowed.
The lockdown will start at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 29 and will end at 5 a.m. on Monday, May 17 – three weeks later.
That means the lockdown will be in force during May 1 Labor Day and the four-day Ramadan Bayram, or Eid al-Fitr, holiday. It will continue for 17 days without any interruptions or exceptions.
Although it has not been officially acknowledged, it is highly likely for the government to extend the lockdown to Wednesday, May 19 since it is also a national holiday, the Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day.
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, certain people, namely those deemed key workers for the continuation of essential services, will be exempt from this lockdown as was with past lockdowns.
The exemption will only apply for the duration needed to perform their duties, which means these groups still won’t be able to roam the streets freely and will be subject to police checks.
Another notable exemption is tourists visiting Turkey. Foreign tourists will be allowed to go outside during the lockdown. Museums and other cultural exhibits will remain open during the lockdown for visits by tourists but the government advises to call ahead before visiting to confirm their operating hours since they might be reduced.
A word of caution for foreigners living in Turkey is that those who have short or long-term residence permits or work visas are not considered tourists, hence expats are not exempt from lockdown regulations.
For those who fail to comply with the new rules, hefty fines await if they are caught outside during the lockdown.
Police officers will hand a TL 3,150 ($385) fine for anyone caught violating lockdown rules. If you are caught without a mask, which is currently mandatory indoors and outdoors, you may be issued an extra TL 900 ($110) fine.
Many non-essential businesses and services will be shuttered during the lockdown, but critical ones will continue to operate. Although cargo businesses will remain open and delivery personnel will be exempt from the lockdown rules during their working hours, you will not be able to go to a branch to return your items. Many e-commerce sites have extended their return policies to cover the duration of the lockdown.
Public and private hospitals will continue to operate at full capacity during the lockdown. Anyone with a doctor’s appointment, including one for a COVID-19 vaccine, or a medical emergency will be exempt from the lockdown. You will, however, be asked to present your appointment details to a police officer if you are stopped at a checkpoint.
In addition to hospitals, pharmacies will continue to operate in their regular schedule. People will be allowed to visit their nearest pharmacy on foot without violating the lockdown.
- Groceries and necessities
Grocery stores, butcheries, bakeries, greengrocers, dessert shops and specialty shops selling dried fruits and nuts (kuruyemişçi) will remain open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the 17-day period.
The catch here is that you will be allowed to shop only from your nearest store, therefore eliminating all shops that require drives.
Another exception is chain supermarkets. While smaller local shops will operate every day, chain supermarkets will be closed on Sundays.
Deliveries of online grocery orders will be subject to the above rules as well.
Liquor stores (known as Tekel shops in Turkey) and the alcoholic beverages sections in supermarkets will also be closed during the lockdown.
- Restaurants and food services
As expected, all restaurants, cafes and eateries serving food and drinks will be closed for service, including takeaway orders. But they will still be allowed to make deliveries, and during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they will be allowed to operate 24/7. If you want some inspiration for the best lockdown pizza in Istanbul, head here.
After Ramadan, which ends on May 14, deliveries will be required to stop after 1 a.m.
All intercity travel will be banned during the lockdown and exceptions will only be made with prior permissions, which will be strict and few.
As mentioned before, if you are a local or a resident foreigner, no reservations or travel tickets will allow you to circumvent the lockdown. You will be eligible for a full refund, however, if you have made any payments for travel or accommodation.
For exceptions, the Interior Ministry lists the following cases where permission will be granted for intercity travel:
- To receive medical treatment in a different city, evidenced by a request made by a doctor.
- Attending the funeral of a first-degree relative.
- Those who have arrived in their current location less than five days ago but are seeking to return to their hometown. Proof of arrival date will need to be submitted.
- Students taking a prescheduled exam at an exam facility designated by the Measurement, Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) of Turkey.
- Soldiers who have completed their conscriptions and are looking to return home after being discharged.
- Anyone who is invited to sign a contract with the private or public sector.
- People being released from jail.
To reiterate, if you are not one of the above or a tourist visiting the country, you won’t able to travel between cities.
If you are, you will need to apply for a permit here or call 199 before hitting the road. You will also be asked to present your HES code from the government’s “Life Fits into Home” track and trace app.
International flights will continue as normal, according to Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines.
Anyone, citizen or not, arriving in the country will be able to continue to their final destination by presenting their international flight ticket. Outbound travelers, including citizens again, will also be allowed to reach their destination airport where they will board their outbound flight.
- Mass transit
The government has already announced that the capacity of mass transit vehicles would be reduced to 50%. But with the majority of the people confined to their homes, operations will be scaled back further.
Expect fewer and less frequent metro, ferry and bus services. As each city will have varying capacities when it comes to public transport, it is best to check with your local authorities, especially if you will be working as usual during the lockdown and would like to obtain information about possible adjustments to your daily commute.
For Istanbul, metros will operate until 9 p.m. every day until May 17, while the following lines will not be working during the lockdown:
- M6 Levent-Hisarüstü/Boğaziçi University metro line,
- F1 Taksim-Kabataş funicular line,
- T3 Kadıköy-Moda tramway line,
- TF1 Maçka-Taşkışla gondola/ aerial cable car line,
- TF2 Eyüp-Pierre Loti aerial cable car line.
Anyone who has a dog will be allowed to walk their dogs in the immediate vicinity of their home. (The rules don’t specifically state it has to be a dog, so you could try your luck with a cat.)
Veterinarians will continue to operate as usual during the lockdown and people will be allowed to drive their pets to the nearest veterinary clinic in case of an emergency.
If you lead an active lifestyle, bad news for you. Unlike the U.K., where the public was allowed 1 hour a day of outdoor activity and exercise time, the Turkish government has made no exemptions for any type of sports or activities. Gyms have been closed since the beginning of Ramadan and won’t open until after May 17.
Jogging around the block or going to the parks for walks, hence, will not be permitted, and neither will be swimming at sea. If you think you won’t make it 17 days without a proper outlet for your pent-up energy, check out our circuit workout you can do at home.
Places of worship
As per Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Sahak Maşalyan’s latest announcement, all churches will be open for worship to members of the congregation living nearby and want to pray individually and light candles. Most will be open between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. but to make sure, call ahead. The Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria Draperis has said it will also be open during the lockdown.
Meanwhile, Ali Erbaş, the head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) said that mosques would also remain open during the 17-day period, allowing the faithful to visit their nearest mosque for their daily prayers. For the time being, Muslims will also be able to frequent mosques for Friday prayers, however, Tarawih – a collective Islamic prayer exclusive to Ramadan – remains canceled at mosques.