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LIVE: Middle East countries impose more restrictions amid growing coronavirus cases

ANKARA: According to a new survey from Turkey, a significant proportion of the population fears losing employment as the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads.

The survey, which was conducted by private pollsters Strateji Co and ERA Research, covered the period between March 19 and March 21 in 12 cities. It revealed that about 68 percent of the 406 participants, aged 18 to 35, are more concerned about unemployment than the virus itself.

While some multinational companies have provided their white-collar workers with the opportunity to work from home, many blue-collar workers and other professionals in sectors like banking still have to be physically present in their workplaces.

Most respondents also believe that the current preventative measures in Turkey could last four months, rendering their employment situation much more precarious.

Employers close to the ruling Justice and Development Party, mostly active in the energy and construction sectors, have reportedly forced their workers to use their annual leaves or take unpaid leave under the extraordinary circumstances.

Selva Demiralp, professor of economics at Koc University in Istanbul, said the economic slump triggered by COVID-19 could lead to an increase in the unemployment rate in Turkey.

Turkey’s unemployment rate in December 2019 was 13.7 percent, and the number of jobless persons aged 15 and over in the country reached 4.4 million, according to the latest official data.

“Unemployment will first hit the services sector, which has already been most heavily affected by the pandemic. As businesses in these sectors experience a decline in their activities due to social isolation, they will lay off their workers,” Demiralp told Arab News.

In the meantime, Istanbul’s historical Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest shopping centers in the world employing more than 20,000 people and hosting almost half-a-million visitors each day, has been completely closed as part of the counter-pandemic measures.

Similarly, Turkish Airlines’ catering service Do&Co had to dismiss about 1,200 employees due to economic losses incurred due to the pandemic, while Turkish Ground Services, another subsidiary of Turkish Airlines, ended the contracts of some 200 personnel.

“In turn, those people who lose their jobs will reduce their overall demand and unemployment will spread to the broader economy,” Demiralp said.

“The government should first aim to minimize the social isolation period by considering a complete lockdown, which seems to be the most effective way to contain the virus,” she added.

Demiralp also pointed out the need for providing compensation for lost revenues and incomes so that businesses survive this period without needing to lay off as many workers.

“If the affected groups receive income transfers, the spread to the overall economy and ensuing increase in total unemployment will be limited,” she said.

However, such support would require efficient management of the budget by avoiding mega infrastructure projects that drain already scarce economic resources.

The tender bids for the relocation and reconstruction of two historical bridges as part of the controversial Istanbul Canal project were held on Thursday, as planned.

The much-criticized project, deemed costly both in terms of finances and the environmental toll, aims at linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara — north and south of Istanbul — with an artificial seaway 45 km long.

In the meantime, another study carried out by the US-based technology company Veloxity showed a correlation between the socioeconomic status of people in Istanbul and their levels of self-isolation. People living in districts with higher socioeconomic status are more inclined to stay at home due to the outbreak of COVID-19, while districts with the highest movement of people were those with lower socioeconomic status, where people had to commute to their workplace.

A nationwide curfew has not yet been declared in Turkey.

The number of COVID-19-related deaths jumped to 59. About 2,500 people are infected with almost 500 new cases each passing day, according to official figures.

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