ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will start countrywide COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday beginning with health workers, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday shortly after Sinovac’s vaccine was granted emergency authorisation.

Turkey has been hit hard by the pandemic, with around 23,000 people dying from the virus and more than 2 million infected. Night-time curfews are in force throughout the week, with a full two-day lockdown at weekends.

“For us to return to our old lives, we absolutely need to get the vaccine,” Koca said after being vaccinated live on television, followed by members of Turkey’s advisory science council. “I believe the days ahead of us will be bright.”

The vaccines have been distributed to public health storage facilities in all Turkey’s 81 provinces, he told

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