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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will "never" close schools again despite a recent rise in COVID-19 infections and the government is mulling various methods to continue in-person education, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
After months of online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey reopened schools this month, while removing most restrictions over the summer. It also began asking for a negative PCR test or proof of vaccination from teachers and also for certain public events.
Turkey's daily infections have risen over the last month at a rate higher than most peer countries to just below 30,000 per day, as have average positive tests, according to global data.
Daily deaths, which rose to around 250 this month, have fallen slightly and Turkey's vaccination rate based on population is higher than most peers.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Koca said a quarter of coronavirus cases detected since schools reopened were among those aged up to 17. But the priority was to continue in-person classes under all conditions, he said.
"I have said that we will keep schools open this year under any circumstances. It's not about being the last to close, they should never close," state broadcaster TRT Haber quoted Koca as saying.
He said Ankara was also mulling education options including weekend classes and other methods. Turkey will keep shopping malls open.
Some 52% of Turks have received two vaccine shots under a national programme that has administered more than 108 million jabs. More than 63,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Turkey, according to the World Health Organization.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu,; Editing by Daren Butler and Angus MacSwan)