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Lockdown for citizens, beach holiday for tourists: New ad exposes Turkey's lopsided COVID rules

Screenshot from the promotional video released by Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism released in May 2021.

A new promotional video by Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism encouraging international tourists to visit the country, while the local population is still under lockdown rules, has sparked fury on social media. The ad was pulled from government websites in less than 24 hours following the reactions.

Released on May 13, the video shows hotel and other industry employees greeting tourists with masks that read “Enjoy! I'm vaccinated!” while a voice-over says: “sanitized resorts and vaccinated staff. We call it double safety for tourism. Our guests call it peace of mind. Come and enjoy the safe haven, the .”

Turkey laid down fresh lockdown rules on April 29 in a bid to curb a new COVID-19 wave — but international holidaymakers are exempt from following them.

Citizens caught violating the measures are subject to a steep fine of 3,180 lira (380 US dollars) and an additional fine of 900 lira (110 US dollars) if they are caught without a mask. In addition, the Ministry of Interior banned all retail sales of non-essential products, such as stationery, cosmetic products, potting soil, and alcoholic beverages. The measures are set to end on May 17.

In an attempt to boost the afflicted tourism industry, which last year suffered losses of €8.3 billion (10.1 billion US dollars), with gross revenue declining around 40 percent in comparison with 2019, Turkey prioritized vaccination of all tourism employees in detriment of other sectors. “We are vaccinating all tourism employees, hotel and restaurant staff, drivers, airport employees, and everyone who can be seen by the tourist, including tour guides,” said Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during a visit to Berlin last week.

The ad swiftly attracted criticism on Turkish social media. Leaders of different opposition parties termed the video “humiliating.” The former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, called for the resignation of the current tourism minister in a tweet.

#TurizmBakanıİstifa (meaning “minister of tourism, resign”) has been trending on Twitter since.

We are like slaves presented for tourists!

Turks seen by tourists will be wearing masks that say “I am vaccinated”. Put an earring on us, poison those who are aggressive, and if there is a reaction, put us up in shelters, maybe someone will adopt us.

In Turkey, street dogs who have been vaccinated against rabies carry tags on their ears.

This cannot be real. You may not vaccinate people, but at least don't humiliate them!

Zaytung, a Turkish satirical magazine, shared a mock news story in response to the video, assuring incoming tourists that the next measure by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism would be to castrate all male waiters and beach employees, who would wear t-shirts that read: “Enjoy! I am castrated!”

While many Turks responded to the promo video with dark humor, frustrations with the ruling Justice and Development Party remain high amid the pandemic. The last thing citizens need right now, it seems, is a reminder of how badly the authorities have handled the pandemic over the last 14 months.

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