The increase in the use of face masks and social distancing take hold in Istanbul as the threat grows.
Istanbul - Istanbulites woke up to a new week to subdued streets and to the Turkish government's additional measures implemented over the weekend to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading.
Even though Turkey has only 18 confirmed cases, the global metropolis of more than 15 million people, an aviation hub connecting Asia and Europe and the economic heart of Turkey, is not taking any chances.
On Thursday last week, schools and universities were shut down and thousands of students either made the journey back to their towns or many parents kept them inside.
Shopping malls in Turkey also announced reduced shopping hours and confirmed they would now operate between 12:00 and 20:00 a reduction of four hours.
Shop owners are starting to feel the bite as life in the city starts to change.
“Normally Saturdays are busy but this weekend business was maybe 50 percent lower, same for others around here,” shopkeeper Omer Guner said, as shoppers heed government advice to avoid unnecessary travel.
The weekend for the fishermen’s market in Uskudar, a central district of Istanbul is normally a busy time of the week, however, footfall was noticeably reduced.
Guner runs a fish sandwich restaurant and a children’s toy shop and has been hit particularly hard.
“People don’t prefer to eat in public or crowded spaces. Many students went to their home towns and people prefer to stay at home, and many parents are worried about the situation they are not letting their children out of their homes,” added Guner speaking to TRT World.
As Europe has become the global epicentre of the coronavirus, the Turkish government has been quick not to underestimate the lethal human and economic impact the virus could have on the country.
Italy, Europe’s fourth-largest economy has gone into complete lockdown and in Iran, the virus continues to ravage the sanction-hit country. People in Turkey have largely followed expert advice.
A Istanbul municipality spokesperson speaking to TRT World said that workers will "disinfect the places of worship, libraries, cultural centers, public transport and stations in Istanbul to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus."
In addition the municipality will hold events in in the six busiest squares of Istanbul including Taksim Square, Eminonu Square, Kadikoy Pier, Bagcilar Square, Uskudar Pier and Esenyurt Square where "doctors will inform the public about the coronavirus and provide information about the measures taken by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality to prevent the spread of the coronavirus across the city. Also, disinfectant will be available at mobile hygiene points for everyone" added the spokesperson.
‘I’m living in self-quarantine’
Eren Kotil, 22, a law student at Bahcesehir University is one of the thousands of students impacted by the decision to close universities.
Kotil was also in Albania just before the government there placed restrictions on businesses, essential travel and restaurants late last week. The country has had 42 cases and four deaths.
“Since I came back from Albania, I’m living in self-quarantine. I do not go outside. I do not host anyone. I always control my personal health. I use kolonya all the time. The Turkish Health Ministry suggests people that came from abroad should stay in quarantine for 14 days, and I’m following this,” Kotil tells TRT World.
Many in Turkey have historically used a popular scented sanitiser known as kolonya or cologne. It is ubiquitous across restaurants, homes and taxis and especially in demand since the outbreak has skyrocketed.
“It’s the first experience that I live under quarantine. It’s a bit weird, but I have got used to it easily. I study and work from home, do not meet or host any friends. As a social guy, those are really hard things to do, but I have to do it,” adds Kotil from his home in Istanbul.
Istanbul is a hub of universities in Turkey with 51 institutions. Istanbul University alone has more than 123,000 students and the city is visibly quieter.
Dilara Kara, 23, is heading back to her family home in Antalya. A student at Istanbul University, she found the decision to close schools “comforting” in addition to the public health awareness campaigns across the country.
“My friends and I try to be more cautious in everyday life because of the virus,” says Kara speaking to TRT World.
“We are careful not to shake hands, more sensitive to hygiene and we prefer not to go to crowded places.“
She added: “At the same time, hand sanitiser apparatus is in the service of the public in both Metrobuses and universities. In such an environment, it makes you feel more comfortable psychologically.”
Municipalities across Turkey are disinfecting buses and trains every day in a bid to assuage public concerns about the coronavirus.
The government is also constantly updating advice on protective measures with nightclubs and bars being asked to close, whereas other places of work in Turkey have asked staff to work from home.
Not all businesses, however, are taking a hit.
Kamil Koc, one of Turkey’s intra-city bus services has seen increased business as people, mainly students head home.
“Because universities and schools were shut down many people are going back to their hometowns,” says Necdat, sitting behind a counter in a Kamil Koc office, as a steady trickle of students with suitcases come in to buy tickets.
“Istanbul is a very crowded space, so the policy of suspending schools is reasonable. But there are many foreign students in Turkey, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to them or where they will stay.”
Is he worried about the virus personally?
“I don’t worry about the virus, we have very few cases,” says Necdat as he reaches for a large bottle of kolonya.