(Mar. 24, 2020) During the third week of March 2019, in conjunction with the minister of health’s announcement that 20,345 tests had been administered in Turkey, with 1,236 positive cases and 30 fatalities, the government of Turkey took several administrative measures to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s public health and justice systems.
New Public Health Measures
On March 21, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a circular order prohibiting persons 65 years of age or older and persons whose immune systems are compromised due to “chronic pulmonary diseases, asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and liver disease” from leaving their residences, effective midnight on March 22. The Ministry ordered the provincial administrations to set up Filial Piety Social Support Groups to attend to the needs of the confined persons. The Ministry based its authority to order the curfew on article 11/C of the Law on Provincial Administration No. 5442 (LPA) and articles 27 and 72 of the Law on Public Health No. 1593 (LPH). Article 11/C of the LPA authorizes the governors of provinces to prohibit persons who are suspected of being dangerous to public order or safety from entering or exiting certain areas in the province for a maximum period of 15 days. Article 72 of the LPH authorizes the government, in cases of dangerous and contagious diseases, to confine to their residences or to medical facilities for a medically necessary period any persons who are sick, are suspected of being sick, or have been determined to be contagious.
The circular order was amended on March 22 to introduce exceptions for persons “whose services are necessary[, …] such as doctors and health workers, and public servants and those managing public administration, such as mayors, provincial directors of public institutions, social workers, and pharmacists.” The order also established emergency telephone numbers for persons subject to the curfew to call if they need permission to move out of necessity. Additionally, it provides that all public and private institutions and operations intending to provide social support for confined persons will be subject to the direction and coordination of provincial and district governorates.
On March 24, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on its website that Filial Piety Social Support Groups had responded to 144,405 calls to their call centers and fulfilled 121,388 requests for material assistance since the curfew entered into force on March 22.
On March 20, the Ministry of Health issued a circular order designating as “pandemic hospitals” charged with admitting COVID-19 diagnosed patients all private hospitals and research hospitals of private universities that employ at least two specialist doctors in the areas of infectious diseases and clinical microbiology, pulmonology, and internal diseases, and have level-3 adult ICU beds. The order requires pandemic hospitals to reserve a special ward and ICUs for COVID-19 cases and make necessary arrangements to maximize the number of ICUs allocated to this task.
On March 22, the president of Turkey published in the Official Gazette a presidential decision ordering that all pending debt and bankruptcy execution proceedings be suspended, the initiation of all new debt or bankruptcy execution proceedings be barred, and the execution of any provisional seizures be prohibited until April 30, 2020. The execution of alimony claims are exempted from the suspension. The presidential decision is based on article 330 of the Law on Execution and Bankruptcy No. 2004, which authorizes the president to order the suspension of execution proceedings for a certain period of time in cases of epidemics, general disasters, or war. On March 24, the Ministry of Justice issued a circular letter detailing how the execution procedures will be operated in light of the presidential decision, in particular with regard to alimony, transfers of child custody, and pending execution processes.
On March 19 and 20, the Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir bar associations reported that the provincial justice administrations of Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir had sent circular letters to courts in their jurisdictions urging the suspension of hearings, electronic and postal services, and summons until at least the end of March, except in proceedings regarding pretrial detention and other urgent cases, to accommodate disruptions in attorneys’ work schedules caused by the pandemic and to prevent the loss of their clients’ rights due to procedural time lapses.
On March 19, 22 provincial bar associations in Turkey called on the Ministry of Justice in a joint petition to suspend all procedural deadlines that might result in loss of rights in civil and administrative proceedings, including the suspension of summons and services until the pandemic emergency has abated.