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Turks stream outside for first lockdown-free weekend in almost two months

Turks streamed outside on Saturday for their first weekend without a coronavirus lockdown in almost two months, the day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suddenly scrapped a stay-at-home order.

Cafes, restaurants and other facilities had reopened on Monday as infection rates slowed and restrictions on intercity travel were lifted.

The president had intended to maintain the weekend lockdown, applied to big cities since 11 April, until a public backlash.

Erdogan is “taking a risk here,” Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said in a research note that cited increased infections in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, where lockdowns have also been eased.

“Lockdowns had been reimposed due to fears over rising infections, but Erdogan seems to have overridden these due to concerns over the economy,” Ash said, according to Bloomberg.

On Saturday, people flooded beaches and shores in Istanbul, and hundreds queued to get into parks. Others bought ice cream in the warm weather – under new hygiene rules. In the capital, Ankara, day-trippers caused traffic jams, AFP said.

“The last time I was here was 70 days ago,” said Gulay Cevik, a housewife in Istanbul who was fishing in the Eminonu district.

“I would always come here to fish, but since the outbreak we’ve had to protect ourselves a bit. I really missed it.”

Cevdet Akaydan, a 23-year-old public servant, was out swimming with his friends along the shore in western Istanbul.

“It’s really nice, very clean and cool right now, it relaxes you,” he said. “Everyone should come, and go in … You can’t explain it, you have to experience it.”

Still, Erdogan has expressed concern that infections may rebound. On Friday, 930 new cases were reported, after a drop to 786 earlier in the week. So far, 4,648 people have died from the virus in Turkey, with 168,340 infections.

The government is focused on reviving the economy even if it comes at the expense of fiscal discipline, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak told reporters on Friday, according to Bloomberg.

The state’s current priority is to shield employment and sectors that are affected by the pandemic, with the labour ministry working on an employment package, he said.

Total fiscal support to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus has reached five percent of Turkey’s gross domestic product, or about $750bn, Albayrak said.

Cem Pehlivan, a textile worker fishing in Istanbul, said: “You really get giddy like a child. It’s lockdown, lockdown, lockdown… Now I feel really good, I’m comfortable and the weather’s fine.”

Original: Middle East Eye and Agencies