More than two million workers in Turkey have lost their jobs due to measures taken to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the main opposition party said on Friday, as the government moved closer to enforcing stricter curbs on movement to slow its spread.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has ordered retailers, restaurants and other businesses to close but has yet to impose a full lockdown anywhere in the country.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Friday, repeated his party’s call for broader restrictions on residents’ movements. At present only those over 65 are subject to a lockdown.
“They (the government) had to start a campaign to keep people home. This current campaign has only led to one thing: unemployment,” he told Fox TV in an interview, saying more than two million jobs had been lost during the epidemic.
It has killed more than 350 in Turkey, with confirmed cases topping 18,000, around 60% of which are in Istanbul.
Erdogan has warned of tougher restrictions if the outbreak worsens or if citizens fail to adhere to a “voluntary quarantine” he has demanded nationwide.
A Turkish official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Friday that Ankara was evaluating further measures, including expanding the existing lockdown – under which essential trips are permitted – to those aged 60 and over and possibly also to under-18s.
“The wheels need to keep turning for the economy to not be damaged, but it is now becoming mandatory for some restrictions to be imposed,” the official said.
New measures were being considered for Istanbul, the official added but acknowledged that the current pace of spread could lead to a “considerably problematic” situation this month.
Pressure for more restrictions also came from Meral Aksener, chairwoman of the opposition Iyi Party, who said in an online interview on Friday that the government was “running” from a stay-at-home order due to its economic implications.
The CHP’s Kilicdaroglu said on Friday that around 400,000 businesses had closed and many workers paid wages on a daily basis had also been laid off since the current coronavirus curbs began.
“The number of those who worked there and are now unemployed exceeds 2 million. They will get unemployment wages from the unemployment fund for a short time, but there are no guarantees after that,” he said.
The first official data showing the impact of the epidemic on Turkey’s workforce will not be published until May, when March unemployment figures are released.
Ankara has also rolled out a 100-billion lira ($15 billion) economic support package and launched a donation campaign to gather funds for the needy, which it said had so far raised 847 million lira.
“We urged the government to take precautions for dayworkers. No measures were taken,” Kilicdaroglu said, adding that the government had to “make sacrifices” rather starting donation campaigns.