Turkey eases pandemic restrictions for foreign visitors

The Interior Ministry announced that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests would not be asked from visitors arriving from abroad starting on Wednesday. It is the latest step Turkey took to ease restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, which sharply receded this spring.

It lifts the requirement of having a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before entry to the country at most and a negative rapid antigen test conducted at a maximum of 48 hours before entry. The ministry said rules and measures against the pandemic were being determined based on “global developments” on the course of the pandemic, citing an update on restrictions imposed on arrivals by land, sea and air on March 3, 2022. Back then, Turkey had lifted the quarantine rule for arrivals from abroad if they had PCR tests or recovered from the disease within the past six months or got vaccinated with at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, if they arrived on flights. No test results or vaccine/recovery documents were asked from land and sea travelers.

Earlier this week, Turkey removed one of the two remaining protective mask mandates, allowing citizens to board mass transit without masks while they will remain compulsory for hospitals. The step came in the wake of a dramatic decline in the number of daily cases. On Tuesday, the number of cases was 975. The country had imposed the mandatory mask rule in the early days of the pandemic in 2020. After two years, it loosened it in March, before removing it everywhere except hospitals and mass transit in April. It was the harbinger of improvement of the pandemic situation, thanks to mass vaccination, a large number of recoveries and the prevalence of the omicron strain, less severe than earlier variants of the infection. Authorities had pointed out that similar practices in European countries prompted them to ease restrictions while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the pandemic was no longer a global threat as he announced the partial end of the mask mandate.

Relaxed restrictions for arrivals from abroad can help the country’s tourism sector recoup its losses during the past two years. Turkey saw the number of foreign arrivals soar 94.1% to 24.71 million and revenues double to almost $25 billion last year when COVID-19 measures were eased compared to 2020. Officials had hoped tourism this year could replicate or exceed the numbers from 2019 when some 52 million visitors brought in $34 billion in revenue.