(Recasts with closing down places, adds religious authority statement)
ISTANBUL, March 16 (Reuters) - Turkey will temporarily close cafes, sports and entertainment venues and is suspending mass prayers in mosques in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, after it identified its first 18 cases in the last week, authorities said on Monday.
"As of midnight Monday all operations of cafes, cinemas, gyms... will be suspended," the Interior Ministry said, citing the heightened risk of passing on the virus in "public recreation areas and entertainment venues".
Swimming pools, concert and wedding venues and some restaurants will also be closed, the ministry said, and all activities and gatherings of non-governmental organisations will be postponed.
The ministry did not say how long the suspension would last.
Separately, Turkey also suspended mass prayers in mosques, the head of Turkey's religious directorate, Ali Erbas said, adding that the places of worship will be kept open for individual prayers.
Turkey has identified a total of 18 coronavirus cases, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday, up from six previously, marking the highest daily rise since the country announced its first case last week.
Last Wednesday, Turkey became the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as "vigilant" measures to delay it.
Since then, the government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, holding sports events without spectators and halting flights to many countries.
Separately, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Monday that all non-emergency court hearings will be delayed.
Bars and nightclubs were closed down as of Monday morning to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, the ministry said previously.
The Istanbul governor's office said on Monday that Turkish citizens who request to return from nine European countries will be brought back until midnight on March 17 on condition that they are quarantined. They will be housed for 14 days in student dormitories in Istanbul, the city's governor said.
Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were taken into quarantine on Sunday and the Interior Ministry said that bars and nightclubs will be closed from Monday to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) warned on Monday that the real number of cases may be higher than officially reported, and the recent trend indicated that the epidemic could reach serious levels.
"We are hearing from doctors all around the country that the number of cases is much higher than 18," TTB head Sinan Adiyaman told a news conference.
"The picture emerging in the last few days suggests that the epidemic could reach serious levels, we advise those older than 65 to stay at home," he said. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Dominic Evans)
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