The Turkish military is limiting its operations in northern Syria because of the spread of Coronavirus in Turkey.

The Defense Ministry said on Sunday, “The movement of staff and troops is minimized, unless it is mandatory.” Troops will enter and exit operation areas only with the permission of the Army chief.

The announcement came as the Health Ministry said Turkey’s death toll from Coronavirus is 574, increasing by 73 in 24 hours. There are 27,069 confirmed cases.

In the last month, Turkey has implemented social distancing, largely sealed its borders, and ordered the closure of a businesses. A new military has been established to help battle the spread of the virus.

On Friday, a stay-at-home order was issued for most Turks under 20, supplementing the existing order for those over 65. Masks were made mandatory in crowded public places, shops, and workplaces.

The Military Situation in the North

Turkish forces deployed in north and northwest Syria from August 2016. Supporting anti-Assad fighters, they initially battled the Islamic State and then overran much of the Kurdish canton of Afrin in winter 2018.

In October, Ankara carried out cross-border operations in northeast Syria to take a strip of territory across the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire. Its military holds a “safe zone”, into which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to place 1 million Syrian refugees, extending east across the Euphrates River to the Iraq border.

In February, Turkey carried out attacks on hundreds of Assad regime targets in northwest Syria, checking a 10-month Russian-regime offensive that seized almost all of northern Hama Province and part of south and east Idlib Province.

Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on March 5 to a de facto partition of Idlib, leaving more than 1 million people displaced by the offensive. Many of the displaced are now in overcrowded camps near the Turkish border, at risk of Coronavirus because of poor sanitation, little or no running water, and more than half of the province’s medical facilities damaged or destroyed by Russian-regime attacks.

See Syria Daily, March 21: Coronavirus — “Wash Our Hands? We Can’t Wash Our Kids For A Week”

Turkey and Russia arranged complementary military patrols in a 12-km (7.5-mile) corridor along the cross-Idlib M4 highway. However, the patrols have been blocked from moving by protests.

At home, Turkey’s outbreak has surged in the last few weeks, with new cases climbing daily. On Friday the government issued a stay-at-home order for most Turks under 20, on top of the existing order for over-65s, plus one for mandatory mask use in crowded public places, shops and workplaces.

On Sunday, the government said residents could apply online for five free masks per week delivered via the post.