April 28, 2020 / 3:34 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Turkey aims to reopen economy starting late May -senior official

* Timing aims to minimise any risk of coronavirus comeback

* Shopping malls seen gradually reopening from May 11

* Turkey has world's 7th highest number of coronavirus cases

* Lockdowns push economy toward 2nd recession within 2 years (Adds retailers and other firms, Erdogan comment, falling lira)

By Orhan Coskun and Ceyda Caglayan

ANKARA, April 28 (Reuters) - Turkey's government aims to begin reviving the economy in late May after a sharp slowdown due to measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, while minimising the risk of a second wave of infections, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Separately, the head of a group of Turkish malls - which closed their doors independently last month - said there were plans for a gradual reopening from May 11 depending on demand from retailers and approval from a health advisory board.

The emerging time frame from both the government and private sector reflects signs that the outbreak may be ebbing in Turkey, unease over the economy's rapid slide toward its second recession in less than two years, and examples provided by some other countries acting to loosen their coronavirus lockdowns.

"Recent studies have indicated that a reopening of the economy will be possible at the end of May and current developments confirmed this. Steps will be taken to reopen without allowing a second wave," the senior official told Reuters.

In keeping with that outlook, Turkish Airlines on Tuesday extended its cancellation of flights by a week to May 28.

Turkey has shuttered schools, restaurants and cafes to curb a surge in cases of the COVID-19 disease. Though some workplaces remain open, it has imposed partial stay-at-home orders, largely closed borders and slowed domestic movement.

The country is seventh globally in confirmed cases of the new coronavirus at more than 112,000. And while some 2,900 people have died, there has been a fall in newly reported deaths over the last eight days.

"When we look at the case and death numbers we have come to a positive point (and) there is a possibility for the economy to reopen," said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

SMALL STEPS

Levels of trade, spending, manufacturing and consumer confidence have deteriorated due to containment measures and touched record lows this month. The lira fell on Tuesday to below 7 to the dollar, its weakest since the worst day of a 2018 currency crisis.

While Italy and some other countries are beginning to relax their lockdowns as infection rates have declined, others such as Russia are standing pat or tightening restrictions.

President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey aims to return to normal life after the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in late May, and on Monday he said the government would soon set out specific steps and dates.

The senior official said Turkey's cabinet had on Monday discussed further possible tax adjustments and incentives to protect jobs and cut business costs, adding the government aims to boost hard-hit tourism and airline sectors.

Reopening "will allow positive GDP readings in the second half of the year and will minimise the annual contraction," he said.

Some Turkish firms are already taking initial steps.

Private lender Denizbank said it had extended working hours in branches to help corporate borrowers, while the head of an auto parts manufacturers association said reopening the economy in May would be a best case scenario in which production only falls some 15% and returns to normal by September.

In an interview, Huseyin Alltas of the Council of Shopping Centres said a planned phased reopening from May 11 would initially exclude cinemas, playgrounds and restaurants - which the government shut down due to an especially high risk of coronavirus transmission - until approvals are given.

Malls in hard-hit cities such as Istanbul - the worst area of outbreak in Turkey - may remain closed longer but could reopen by June, the official said.

Sinan Oncel, head of the United Brands Association representing around 50,000 stores, said retailers would ask malls for rent discounts and aim for 50% of normal revenues over the first few months. (Additional reporting by Ebru Tuncay, Can Sezer and Ezgi Erkoyun Writing by Jonathan Spicer Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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