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Coronavirus: Turkey unveils plan to revive tourism with health and hygiene certificates

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Turkey has unveiled a plan to revive tourism by giving travellers, resorts and employees seals of approval in a programme meant to jumpstart a crucial industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey’s tourism minister on Sunday announced a certification scheme that will grant resorts and workers the right to operate in the coming summer season.

The certificates, to hotels, restaurants, transport firms, and other facilities,  will be granted by “international certification institutions” to mark “a high level of health and hygiene requirements”, Turkey’s ministry of tourism and culture announced.

“Our certification program shall ensure that our guests in Turkey are going to make their holidays safely and hygienically and feel comfortable during their visit,” Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Turkey’s minister of Culture and Tourism said in a press release.

“Our programme covers preventive and protective steps including air, marine and land transportation, arrival ports, all facilities providing a holiday experience, health condition of employees in the industry, and tourists themselves,” he said.

At stake is the survival of a politically well-connected $34.5 billion industry that is a crucial source of foreign currency reserves that Turkey has needed to keep inflation at bay.

Turkey has recorded at least 137,000 coronavirus cases, putting it among the 10 worst-affected countries worldwide, and more than 3,700 Covid-19 deaths, which is among the worst 15.

Eager to restart an economy that was already suffering from inflation and unemployment before the pandemic, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun to ease lockdown restrictions — with shopping malls and hair salons set to re-open on Monday, and the elderly and youth who were confined to their homes for weeks allowed out for short spells.

But international and domestic travel remains under severe restriction, strangling a key industry in a country with no oil but a Mediterranean climate, golden beaches, snow-capped mountains, and archaeological treasures.

Unlike measures being considered by the United Kingdom, there appears to be no talk so far of imposing a two-week quarantine on anyone entering the country, a move British travel executives say would kill the tourism industry.

Under the programme, passengers must wear masks to enter airports “from the time of check-in until their check-out”, and be screened for fevers before they board planes.

Travel industry employees will be given hygiene training and equipment, and be subject to regular screening with thermal cameras and thermometers.

Hotels and restaurants will be required to implement hygiene social distancing measures inside facilities, while planes, buses, and boats will be required to frequently sterilise vehicles and implement social-distancing measures.

Facilities must apply for, and obtain, certificates using the tourism ministry’s website, in order to reopen by 1 June, said the announcement.

It remains unclear how much the new regulations, packaged by advertising and public relations giant Ogilvy, will substantially decrease the risks of contracting coronavirus. Asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus are seen as some of the biggest threats, and not all who develop Covid-19 develop high fevers that could be detected by thermal cameras.

Some officials also worried that few seeking a carefree holiday would want to be surrounded by waiters and hosts in surgical masks and facilities constantly being sterilised.

“Hotels would then turn into pandemic hospitals,” said one official quoted by the Izmir-based Yeni Bakis newspaper. “People cannot take a vacation like they are coming to a pandemic hospital. This is against the natural flow of life.”

Facilities could also simply pay lip service to correct protocols on the application to obtain certification and then fail to abide. One question on the form, for example, asks whether employees suspected of Covid-19 are reported to a manager, a measure that could be difficult to enforce from afar.

While Turkey’s infection rates have declined and deaths have plummeted from a daily high of 127 in mid-April to about 50 per day, some physicians have warned of a resurgence of the illness if the lockdown is removed too quickly.

But the new measures could also reassure passengers inclined to take holidays in Turkey, lured by a declining lira that has lowered prices for food and accommodation and cheap flights on Turkish Airlines, discount carriers and charters. Airlines are set to resume regular flights by June.

Mr Ersoy acknowledged an element of marketing in Sunday’s announcement, saying the certification helps Turkey’s travel industry “transition to healthy tourism before everyone”.

The certification programme could also potentially indemnify carriers and hotels in case a guest becomes sick or dies.

“This certificate programme demonstrates that Turkey will take a pioneering role in terms of setting the direction for the normalisation of tourism,” said Mr Ersoy.

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