New coronavirus cases in Turkey hit highest level this year after measures eased

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Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Istanbul

ANKARA (Reuters) - The daily number of new coronavirus cases in Turkey rose on Wednesday to the highest level this year, Health Ministry data showed, ten days after President Tayyip Erdogan announced an easing of measures to curb the pandemic.

The number of new cases stood at 14,556, the highest since the end of last year and nearly double from a month ago.

Erdogan announced a partial opening of schools, cafes and restaurants last week. Ankara also eased weekend lockdowns, after the number of new cases fell below 10,000 daily.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca blamed the rise in cases on a faster spread of COVID-19 variations.

"Mutated viruses have increased the rate of spread," he said, adding that more than 40,000 people have been infected by the variant identified in Britain, as well as much smaller numbers by those identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Wednesday's data showed 67 people died due to COVID-19 in the last 24-hour period, raising the death toll to 29,227.

Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has administered 10.41 million vaccine doses in a campaign that began in mid-January. More than 7.7 million people have received a first shot and nearly 2.6 million a second dose of the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)