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Bans, warnings for packed minibuses, gatherings amid COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey

Bans, warnings for packed minibuses, gatherings amid COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey

Turkey’s struggle against the coronavirus outbreak encounters obstacles despite relative success. Overcrowded places remain a fertile ground for infection while authorities strive to end the scenes of people too close to each other and occasionally, without protective masks.

Nationwide, send-off ceremonies for conscripts, a popular custom, pose a risk while it is private-run minibuses crammed with passengers which threatens the fight against infections in Istanbul, the country’s most populated city which long had the highest number of new cases.

Since the beginning of the week, governorates in at least a dozen cities, including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, announced restrictions to send-off ceremonies.

The ceremonies involve a large crowd of people, usually youth, converging on main streets to form convoys. Convoys disrupting traffic then head to bus stations to see off conscripts. Occasionally, the crowds engage in dancing in the streets in dangerously close quarters, despite the ongoing threat of the pandemic. Photos and videos published online and by media outlets show most people ditching masks and social distancing rules during the informal ceremonies. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca often shares these photos on his social media account and warns against them. Pandemic task forces set up in each province ordered the ceremonies to be held without spectacle, especially without convoys. Only relatives of the conscripts will attend the ceremonies. In Istanbul, conscripts are required to sign an agreement that the ceremonies will not violate social distancing and mask requirements.

In Istanbul, police face a tough task of monitoring crammed passenger minibuses especially during rush hours. Minibuses are the only option for commuters especially in short routes and routes where buses do not operate frequently. Thus, before the pandemic, they were always brimming with passengers, sometimes grabbing each other in order not to fall from open doors. Curfews and restrictions relatively ended those scenes, but as Turkey has gradually started introducing the normalization process in the past two months, overcrowded minibuses are back. Police squads chase and fine drivers, but not a day passes without the news of minibus drivers caught red-handed while carrying passengers higher than the capacity of the minibus.