Turkey resumes intercity train services as coronavirus curbs ease


World, Middle East

The virus has killed more than 4,300 people in Turkey, from nearly 160,000 infections

A man wipes the face of a Turkish soldier wearing a face mask for protection against the new coronavirus. (AP)

Ankara: Turkey began operating intercity trains on Thursday after a two-month gap, as it gradually eases coronavirus curbs in a bid to restore normal life and reopen an economy facing the threat of recession.

To fight the virus, Turkey had imposed weekend stay-at-home orders, halted most travel between large cities, shut restaurants and schools, and mostly sealed its borders.

But the government has begun rolling back some measures as the spread of the virus slows, saying it aims to normalise life until August.

At 0400 GMT, an intercity train left the capital, Ankara, for Istanbul for the first time since the March 28 halt in services. Trains will make 16 trips daily, although individuals aged 20 or less and 65 or older cannot travel.

Trains would run at half capacity with no ticket price hikes, Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said, adding that passengers would be monitored for virus symptoms.

“Passengers showing COVID-19 symptoms during the trip will be taken to isolation compartments on the trains and handed over to health officials at the first appropriate station,” he told reporters at Ankara’s train station.

The resumption comes after a four-day stay-home order nationwide for the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday was lifted at midnight on Tuesday.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said citizens had not fully abided by social distancing steps after the lifting of the order and urged them to follow precautions against a second wave of infections.

“We are in a period in which the risk continues, it has not lifted,” Koca said in a statement late on Wednesday, adding that while the government was ready to tackle a possible second wave, such an outcome could be prevented.

The virus has killed more than 4,300 people in Turkey, from nearly 160,000 infections. The economy is expected to tip into recession over the containment measures.