At least 74 people have died of the coronavirus in Turkey, where more than 3,600 have been reported infected since the first case on March 11, the health minister said late on Thursday.

A man in. protective gear disinfects Sveti Stefan Church in Balat district as part of precautions against the coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey. March 17, 2020.
A man in. protective gear disinfects Sveti Stefan Church in Balat district as part of precautions against the coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey. March 17, 2020. (AA)

Turkey's deputy foreign minister on Friday announced the Covid-19 outbreak has killed at least 50 Turkish expatriates in eight countries.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of Foreign Ministry's coronavirus Coordination and Support Centre, Yavuz Selim Kiran said at least 151 Turkish citizens abroad have tested positive for Covid-19. "We are closely monitoring their situation," Kiran said.

Turkey confirmed late on Thursday that the coronavirus has killed at least 75 people while the number of confirmed cases surged to a total of 3,629 since the first case was reported on March 11.

"As of today, we have brought back nearly 15,000 citizens with the information received from 45 different countries and all have been quarantined," he added.

Turkey received medical supplies request from 77 countries, Kiran stressed, noting that the country was able to respond to 20 of those countries.

About 40,000 tests have been done including about 7,000 in the last 24 hours, suggesting Turkey is edging toward the target Health Minister Fahrettin Koca set out a week ago.

To contain the virus, Ankara has closed schools, cafes and bars, suspended mass prayers, and suspended sports matches and flights. 

Among the containment measures, Ankara said it quarantined Muslims returning from Umrah in Saudi Arabia.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey, which has a population of about 83 million, would overcome the outbreak in two to three weeks.

Mustafa Cankurtaran, head of geriatrics at the Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, said his team is following the national guidelines, testing only "risky" patients with cough and fever.

But next month will be critical since the outbreak will widen, he said.

Earlier this week Koca said the kits sent to the United States were locally-produced PCR tests for the coronavirus. 

He said Turkey had a monthly production capacity of 2 million tests and added that the tests purchased from China were "rapid tests", not PCR.

Irshad Shaikh, the World Health Organization's health security program leader in Turkey, said the country now had little room for error and must test everyone who has had contact with the virus. 

He said, however, that the export of test kits to the United States, which he said was in a "perilous situation," could be seen as a form of capital investment.

"From now on, it's a very slippery slope and razor-thin margin moving forward," he said. "Now if the US succeeds in vaccine development, we already have our invested cash in the bank in the form of our IOUs," Shaikh told Reuters.

Pilgrimage procedures postponed

Payments, preparations and other procedures for would-be Turkish pilgrims to Saudi Arabia have been halted indefinitely amid the coronavirus outbreak, Turkish authorities announced on Friday.

Training for pilgrim candidates and procedures for luggage, books, and other materials and employee selection and training have all been halted until further notice, said Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate.

Payments for people who already paid the first instalment for pilgrimages have been postponed, it added in a statement.

Saudi authorities' failure to inform international officials about the coronavirus risk led to pilgrims returning to their home countries having contracted the virus, according to Turkish officials.

Earlier this month Saudi officials suspended the Umrah pilgrimages until further notice over the outbreak.

After first appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 176 countries and territories, according to data compiled by  US-based Johns Hopkins University. 

More than 537,000 cases have been reported worldwide since last December, with the death toll above 24,000 and over 123,000 recoveries. 

Source: AA