ANKARA: Turkey will begin a gradual return to normal life on a province-by-province basis from March, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that nationwide weekend COVID-19 lockdowns would be lifted in some provinces based on infection rates.
Turkey imposed curfews, weekend lockdowns and other curbs in December in the face of rising cases. It plans to reopen schools nationwide on Mar 1, and its vaccination programme has so far administered shots to nearly 5.7 million people using shots developed by China's Sinovac Biotech.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Erdogan said a plan on re-opening cafes and restaurants, which have been shut down for months, would be announced in coming days, and urged citizens to continue abiding by the measures.
"We will categorise our provinces as low, medium, high, and very high risk based on infection and vaccination rates. As of March, we are beginning the gradual normalisation period," he said.
"We are gradually lifting lockdowns restrictions, starting with the weekends, based on infection, vaccination and other criteria in provinces," Erdogan said, adding that the roadmap for the normalisation and return to schools would be evaluated again in the coming weeks.
Turkey has so far reported more than 2.6 million cases and nearly 27,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the outbreak began in March of last year. Though vaccinations began last month, new daily cases have lingered between 6,000 and 8,000, causing concern.
Erdogan said he believed March would be a month in which Turkey "makes great advancements in terms of vaccination", and added that Ankara was making the necessary arrangements for the procurement of doses.
"We are in a position where we can stop this nuisance from being a threat by showing a bit more patience, with a bit more sacrifice," he said.