The US vs. Turkey: A comparison of COVID-19 responses

Published 11/04/2022 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Noreen Mohsin | 11/04/2022

As of June 9th, 2021, 64% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated. Yet in several states such as Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, COVID cases have been rising over the past several weeks (“COVID Restrictions”). In Turkey, despite the number of cases declining significantly since April 2021, only 14.6% of the population has been vaccinated (Bhatia).

The mission of the Milken Institute is to “catalyze practical, scalable solutions to global challenges by connecting human, financial, and educational resources to those who need them” (“About the Milken Institute”). My visit to Istanbul, Turkey, from June 20-23 enabled me to help further this mission. The trip allowed me to understand the difference in effectiveness between the U.S. and Turkish governments’ response to COVID-19. This analysis aligns with the mission of the Milken Institute because by gaining knowledge on how other countries are reacting to the important global challenge of COVID-19, the institute can formulate more effective guidance for the U.S. government on how to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The response currently being taken by the US and Turkish governments has been vastly different, as well as the actual compliance from citizens of each country. The Turkish government instituted a lockdown on all citizens beginning on April 29th. Under this lockdown, there is a curfew on Sundays and weekdays after 9 PM, and capacity constraints on restaurants and indoor venues (Bhatia). On the other hand, in the U.S, majority republican states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, have lifted COVID restrictions despite increasing cases. States like West Virginia are having an increasingly difficult time vaccinating citizens, even offering incentives like guns and money to convince individuals to take their vaccine (“COVID Restrictions”).

Throughout my trip to Turkey, I observed and gained crucial insights into how effective the Turkish government mandates have been in combating COVID-19. I analyzed the compliance amongst Turkish citizens towards these mandates, as well as how closely citizens have been following the government’s mandatory social distancing and hygiene practices. This experience allowed me to compare the U.S. government’s response to COVID-19 to that of the Turkish government to therefore formulate a thorough opinion on how the Milken Institute can provide guidance to the U.S. government on COVID-19 responses. 

Turkish Response to COVID-19

From the moment my group landed at Istanbul Airport, I saw government COVID-19 mandates being put into practice. Police were approaching individuals who didn’t have their masks on and requesting that they did so. 

We entered Istanbul on a Sunday, which meant that there was a government curfew in place on that day. However, when we reached Sultanahmet (Old City) upon leaving the airport, the city looked as if there was no curfew at all. Perhaps this was because the area was very touristy (tourists were not confined by the curfew), but a lot of restaurants and shops seemed to be open (despite the official rule stating that all non-essential businesses had to stay closed on Sundays), and a lot of individuals who looked like natives were walking around outside. As tourists, my group had to carry our passports whenever a curfew was in place, yet throughout the trip we didn’t get asked a single time to show them despite being out during curfew quite frequently. For dinner, my group visited a restaurant in Old City (which was surprisingly open despite the curfew) and were amazed to find that it was packed with customers. Big groups of customers were seated, many of whom appeared to be Turkish citizens. My group was surprised by how little Turkish citizens were complying with the regulations set forth by the government.

The following two days, my group visited the tourist attractions of Old City, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. Each attraction was bustling with tourists, but despite the previous day’s lack of COVID-19 compliance, masks were being strictly enforced in each location. In the Hagia Sophia, I pulled down my mask for 30 seconds just to scratch my nose, and was immediately approached by security who asked me to put it back on.

After seeing how little compliance there was for the curfew on Sunday, I expected that the evening curfew (10 PM on weekdays) wouldn’t be followed very carefully. However, I was very wrong. My group was out until 9:45 PM on Monday, and to our surprise, the city was a ghost town by 9:30 PM. There was not one person walking out on the street, and every single shop in sight was completely closed. I was impressed by the compliance despite it hurting the small businesses in the area. For dinner, my group visited a small restaurant in Old City which was only open during curfew because the owner had obtained a permit. Upon speaking with the owner, we learned that his restaurant was struggling to stay afloat given the weekday curfew, as most tourists didn’t realize that restaurants could be open during curfew with a permit.

For the group’s last day in Istanbul (Wednesday), we decided to visit various Bazaar’s in the city, including the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar. As we expected, the Bazaar was packed, but surprisingly not one person was wearing a mask. Even more, customers were grabbing store samples from trays laid out in the open air, which could potentially cause the spread of germs within the Bazaar. My group had an interesting conversation with one store owner, who shared that a majority of people his age (young adults) that he knew had not yet been vaccinated.

Overall, my group observed a range of compliance towards the government regulations intended to combat COVID-19. We were surprised by the lack of compliance towards the Sunday curfew, but impressed that the curfew was enforced on Monday evening. However, we also wondered whether this was simply because it was a Monday and not later in the week. Regardless, our observations provide great insight into the effectiveness of the mandates, especially in comparison to those set in place by the U.S. government.

U.S. Response to COVID-19

The U.S. government’s response to COVID-19 has varied substantially amongst the different states. For example, in Texas, on May 17 Governor Greg Abbott “signed an executive order that bans government entities in the state from requiring face masks. Abbott said March 2 it's time to "open Texas 100%" and ended the statewide mask order, citing declining hospitalizations across the state as more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus”. Yet in NY, restrictions were only lifted by the government after the state reached a 70% 1st-dose vaccination rate (“COVID Restrictions”).

There are various discrepancies between the U.S. and Turkish responses to COVID-19. Most states ended their stay-at-home orders only months after the pandemic first started (April 2020), drastically differing with the rules set forth by the Turkish government. Most states also ended mandatory masks for vaccinated individuals as well as social distancing rules, also differing from the rules set forth by the Turkish government. The reason for these discrepancies is most likely due to the vaccination rates between Turkey and the U.S. Several U.S. states have reached majority first-dose vaccination, whereas in Turkey, only 14.6% of the population has been vaccinated (Bhatia).

However, while the U.S. is lifting restrictions, this isn’t necessarily because cases are falling. Texas, California, Arkansas, and Arizona are among the 18/50 U.S. states where cases are still rising. Alternatively, Turkey is actually planning to ease COVID restrictions in July as cases have dropped steadily since the start of the lockdown that began on April 29, 2021 (“COVID Restrictions). This could indicate that the government’s lockdown restrictions proved to be effective, further reinforced by the compliance I observed on my trip towards weekday curfew and mask-wearing at tourist attractions.

Recommendations for Milken Institute

Upon my analysis of the differences between COVID-19 responses in the U.S. and Turkey, I’ve devised several recommendations that the Milken Institute can use in providing guidance for the U.S. government. In Turkey, I found that the nighttime curfew was strongly effective, whereas the Sunday curfew was not. In terms of U.S. policy, I feel that requiring businesses to obtain a permit for increasing capacity (similar to how Turkish restaurants require a permit to stay open after 10 PM on weekdays) could prove to be effective in states where cases are still rising. I also believe that businesses should have the right to determine whether or not they want to enforce mask-wearing. In Texas, the government has taken this decision away from businesses by banning masks altogether. Yet in Istanbul, I felt that it was effective for businesses and tourist attractions to enforce masks especially given the large crowds of tourists. Lastly, in states that are still experiencing rising cases, capacity constraints should remain in effect for large outdoor gatherings. As I saw the crowds at the Grand Bazaar, I could see that social distancing/mask practices weren’t being followed, which could have contributed to the still high number of cases in Turkey today.


Overall, I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to visit Istanbul thanks to the generosity of the Milken Scholars Program and Mike Milken. I felt that it was an incredibly educational experience and opened my eyes to the ways that different countries have been affected by COVID-19. It also exposed me to the way that small businesses have been impacted in other countries by the pandemic, as well as innovative ways that different governments have sought to contain the virus. I also felt that I was still able to experience the culture, food, and sights of Istanbul to the fullest extent despite the pandemic, and am grateful for the experience to do so.

Works Cited

“About the Milken Institute: Milken Institute.” About,,for%20themselves%2 0and%20their%20broader.

Bhatia, Gurman, et al. “Turkey: the Latest Coronavirus Counts, Charts and Maps.” Reuters, Thomson.  Reuters, 2 July 2021,

“COVID-19 Restrictions Map of COVID-19 Case Trends, Restrictions and Mobility.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 4 July 2021,