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People take selfies in front of Christmas decorations in Istanbul, Turkey, December 22, 2020 (Photo by Osman Orsal / Xinhua)

ISTANBUL, Dec.23 (Xinhua) – Turkey counts down to its first New Year’s Eve celebrations, to be held amid COVID-19 lockdown, as experts warn the festivities must remain strictly reserved to family members.

The pandemic has forced authorities to reduce overcrowded events, and a four-day curfew will be in place across the country from the evening of December 31.

For the first time, there will be no party in the streets of Istanbul. Cafes, restaurants and clubs in the country’s largest city of over 16 million people, well known for its colorful nightlife in normal times, will remain closed.

People have already started shopping for this otherwise festive time amid drastic measures taken to curb the pandemic.

Tugce Ozgun, a resident of Istanbul’s Kadikoy district in the Asian part of the city, made a limited list of what to buy this year for her relatives and close friends.

“The only thing I’m grateful for this year is my health, to be honest. Otherwise, on a personal and professional level it’s been dark and difficult with everything that’s going on with the pandemic,” this owner of a small business told Xinhua.

“I will be traveling to Ankara to be with my mom and dad. We will be home all the time during the lockdown,” Ozgun noted. “It will be good for my budget, however,” she said with a smile. “I don’t need to buy a lot of gifts because there won’t be a reunion with friends like in previous years.”

Many cafes and restaurants in major cities have announced special take-out menus for this unprecedented New Year’s Eve, featuring turkey dinners and other gourmet delights, including popular kebabs.

Online shopping is also on the rise, especially among citizens under the age of 20 who are not allowed to use public transport and can only go out for three hours a day.

Feyza Dereli, marketing director of one of Turkey’s leading e-commerce sites, GittiGidiyor, said the industry projects at least a 50% year-over-year increase in overall holiday shopping this year, the Sabah daily reported.

Turkey’s coronavirus-hit tourism sector also wants to take advantage of the festivities by offering discounts on hotel stays to attract people.

Health specialists, meanwhile, urge citizens to respect hygiene rules and social distancing during festive periods.

Sema Turan, a member of the Ministry of Health’s scientific advisory board on the coronavirus, urged citizens to celebrate at home with only their closest family members.

“Do not go outside, do not go to large and crowded rooms. Even at home, there should not be crowds. Otherwise, there will be consequences,” she warned.

Turan, who works in the intensive care unit at Ankara City Hospital, said the curfew has eased their workload. “It shows that following the rules can help fight the pandemic. If we continue to adhere to the restrictions, the outbreak could end in months,” she said.

Panora Mall, one of Ankara’s biggest stores, is full of retail signs, with some stores offering up to 50% off products. One customer, who identified herself as Secil, said she was making the most of the savings on sales and buying gifts for her family.

“The pandemic has stolen a lot of happiness this year. We are about to say goodbye to 2020, and we hope 2021 will be better for everyone. Hope the vaccines defeat this virus,” she told Xinhua .

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