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Coronavirus rise dashes Turkish dreams of big weddings

After rescheduling her wedding three times this year, Nalan Altas was finally supposed to be getting married last weekend. With weddings blamed for an uptick in coronavirus cases across Turkey throughout the summer and tight restrictions now in place limiting celebrations, however, the 36-year-old and her partner threw in the towel.

“I always hoped to have my loved ones and whole family with me on my wedding day but when they said weddings are now only allowed to be one hour we cancelled the whole thing. I am psychologically devastated, and financially it’s hard, too,” she said.

Turkey’s Covid-19 cases have steadily crept up since tough nationwide lockdown restrictions were lifted in July, with the daily number of new cases hitting 1,771 on Friday, the highest rate since mid-May. Doctors and opposition politicians allege that the caseload is actually much higher, accusing the government of a cover-up – a charge Ankara denies.

Number of new coronavirus cases in Turkey per day.

Tougher measures to enforce social distancing were brought in earlier this month. Several areas are facing new curfews and masks are now mandatory in all public spaces and workplaces across the country.

Wedding coronavirus horror stories have filled the pages of Turkish tabloids this summer: one Trabzon wedding was cancelled after the entire bridal party tested positive at a henna party the night before, and a woman in Kayseri tested positive after attending five weddings in three days. Even during the peak of the pandemic, some people defied the restrictions to hold illegal lockdown celebrations.

As of 4 September, weddings are still allowed to take place, but they can only last an hour, with social distancing in place and no dancing or food served. In some areas, volunteer “wedding inspectors” attend celebrations to check that the bride and groom and their guests are adhering to the new rules.

Curbs on big wedding celebrations are a significant compromise for Turkey, which needs to contain the spread of the virus without totally shutting down the already struggling economy. Turkey usually sees 600,000 weddings a year, and the wedding industry itself is worth a staggering 98bn lira (£10bn).

“It’s not just the cultural aspect of families coming together and couples starting their lives together that is missing, there is a big financial impact as well,” said Emek Kırbıyık, who runs düğün.com, the country’s biggest wedding planning website.

“The direct wedding service providers, white goods manufacturers, furniture, carpets, everything needed to make a new home is affected.”

For Tolga Turkuk, the owner of a wedding hall in Istanbul’s working-class Kasımpaşa neighbourhood, September should be the busiest time of the year. Many of his clients spend their summers on the Black Sea harvesting tea and hazelnuts, and tend to hold big family celebrations throughout the autumn when they get back. This year, however, his calendar is empty.

“We opened for the summer after the nationwide lockdown was lifted, but now it’s all cancelled again,” he said. “We had three or four days a week of business this time last year and now nothing. It’s also emotionally heavy for the couples. I’ve seen brides walking away crying.”

Rohan Benek, a family doctor in the southern city of Şanlıurfa, however, warned that his area had seen a spike in coronavirus cases after Bayram (Eid al-Adha) and weddings held over the summer.

“The numbers don’t add up. We were seeing 400 cases a day in Şanlıurfa last month, when the official daily number for the whole of Turkey was 1,200.

“My colleagues are very tired and we are more at risk from Covid-19 than many others. If people want to be able to have weddings in 2021 then they need to listen to the warnings now.”

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