Turkey to delay return to classrooms by nearly a month
Students will return to classrooms in Turkey in late September nearly a month after the start of the new academic year, the government announced Wednesday, as daily coronavirus cases remain above 1,000.
Turkish officials are worried as the daily figures rose from around 900 to over 1,000 confirmed cases on August 4 and have not dropped below four digits since then. But the number is well below the peak of more than 5,000 daily cases in April.
"Schools will re-open with distance learning on August 31," Education Minister Ziya Selcuk told reporters in Ankara. It is hoped that a gradual return to classrooms will be possible from September 21, he added. Selcuk said the decision is based on advice from the scientific committee advising the government, which met on Wednesday before the minister's formal announcement.
Schools and universities were shut down in March along with most public spaces as Turkish authorities rushed to prevent the virus outbreak crippling the country's health system. Officials then decided to keep them shut for the rest of the academic year.
So far a total of 243,180 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Turkey, 5,873 of whom have died, according to government data published Tuesday.
Doctors' groups, especially in the southeast of the country, have warned of a deteriorating situation after the government ended weekend lockdowns in June. While officials deny the claims, healthcare workers in Ankara say cases are rising fast, with intensive care units full and patients being turned away from pandemic hospitals.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned on Wednesday that "strict measures we do not want to endure again could be brought back if the rise continues at this speed". Before restrictions were lifted in May and June, the Turkish authorities shut down public spaces such as cafes, restaurants, barbershops and shopping malls, and banned intercity travel.