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Turkey Reveals Unusual Virus Control Tactics: Wedding Inspectors

Some of the wedding guests looked shocked when Ibrahim Simsek and his team in fluorescent jackets entered the venue in the Turkish city of Golbasi, where they waited for the bride and groom to arrive.

They were quickly reassured that this was just a wedding inspection – one of the compromise solutions Turkey has taken to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak without shutting down its economy.

The team goes through a checklist to make sure the venue is doing temperature checks, seating guests at least two inches apart, and enforcing a ban on halay – a traditional line dance in which attendees connect their fingers to their neighbors. Instead of pinning money and gold coins to the bride and groom, the guests have to put their gifts in a box.

The volunteer unit, consisting of two civil servants, two school principals and an imam, attended 14 different weddings on their laps last weekend. “It’s very exhausting,” said Simsek, whose day-to-day job is to run a facility for a state-owned utility company. “But that is our duty. We have to do it to protect people’s health. “

The 52-year-old said he rarely encountered any problems. Most of the venues in Ankara Province are well aware of the rules and the fines they face for violating them. But elsewhere in Turkey, weddings are blamed as one of the causes of an increase in the number of cases. The number of new daily cases hit 1,500 this week – its highest level since mid-June.

There are many stories of events where guests and hosts broke the rules. Turkish health minister Fahrettin Koca said last week that 32 people contracted the virus at a wedding in the Black Sea province of Ordu after driving in the same cars, putting on makeup and attending two festive days.

Tulay Baydar Bilgihan, Golbasi District Governor who oversees the inspectors, turned down the idea of ​​canceling weddings despite the fact that her Western Anatolia region had the highest number of weekly cases in the country last week. “There are around 44 wedding locations in our region. . . It’s a very important sector, ”she said, adding that there wasn’t long until the end of the summer wedding season.

Venues must conduct temperature checks and accommodate wedding guests at least two feet apart. Dancing is not permitted. © Tunahan Turhan / INA Photo Agency / UIG / Getty

Wedding inspector Ibrahim Simsek checks hand sanitizer. His day job is managing a facility for a state energy supply company © Laura Pitel / FT

More than 540,000 couples tied the knot in Turkey last year. In addition to directly helping the wedding industry, marriages also benefit the construction and homeware sectors as newlyweds buy and furnish a new home.

Marriage is also important culturally. While social attitudes in Turkey have eased over the past decade, 61 percent of those surveyed in 2018 said they strongly disapprove of sex before marriage, according to the World Values ​​Survey compiled by a group of international scientists.

Turkish officials claim the virus is being contained despite the surge in cases. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted this week that Turkey, which has had a total of 260,000 Covid-19 cases and 6,100 deaths, is “one of the most successful countries in the world” in fighting the pandemic, adding “despite an increase of the cases, the outbreak is under our control. ”

However, medical experts and medical associations are concerned that a rapid normalization in recent months – with many people returning to their offices, widespread travel, and the kickoff of some major events – has sparked a resurgence of the virus of this nature in countries now facing Whole europe.

“There has been a serious spike in the past few weeks, especially the past fortnight,” said Kayihan Pala, a public health expert who is a member of the Turkish Medical Association’s (TTB) Covid-19 Monitoring Committee, the largest of the country State Medical Union.

Mr Pala said that people across the country “act like there is no serious problem”. He added, “People attending weddings, engagement ceremonies, funerals or public events are unaware of the gravity of the situation.”

The TTB, which is often heavily criticized by the government, is among those who claim that the actual daily cases of new viruses are higher than the official figures. An official from the Turkish Ministry of Health denied the claim, adding, “From the beginning we have shared our numbers in a transparent manner.”

In response to the rising number of cases, Turkey has postponed the reopening of schools until the end of September. But, as in many countries, authorities have shown reluctance to take sweeping new measures that would force stores and other businesses to close and deal a new blow to the fragile economy.

Instead, authorities have taken gradual measures, such as restrictions in some regions for those over 65 who are at higher risk from the virus. They have stepped up inspections on wearing masks, which are mandatory in shops, public transport and other crowded spaces.

This week, the Interior Ministry further tightened the rules for weddings in more than a dozen provinces, including Ankara, limiting events to just one hour. The ban on serving food and the ban on dancing have now been extended to the bride and groom. Each event must be attended by at least one wedding inspector.

For Aykut Akalin, whose wedding location on the lake in Golbasi has passed several inspections, the news was a blow. “It’s very bad,” he said. “A bride. . . called me and she cried. She said, “What should I do?”

“Just an hour without food – is that a wedding?”

Additional reporting from Funja Guler in Ankara


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