In light of the continuing worldwide spread of coronavirus COVID-19 and given its classification by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated today its travel advice to Cypriot citizens to avoid travelling abroad unless absolutely necessary. Citizens of the Republic of Cyprus who are temporarily abroad or permanently reside abroad are advised to be particularly cautious, to follow local and international media on the latest developments regarding COVID-19, to follow the relevant instructions of the country’s authorities, to take self-protection measures, as well as to inform the accredited Diplomatic Mission of the Republic of their presence in the country. Cypriot citizens who are or intend to travel abroad are encouraged to register on the website www.oikade.gov.cy
Five new coronavirus cases were detected on Saturday with one being a patient at Paphos general hospital, forcing authorities to shut it down for 48 hours. The case concerns an individual who was being treated in the Paphos general hospital intensive care unit and who had been visited by relatives from the UK. Following the confirmation, the ministry closed the hospital to the public and placed everyone inside in quarantine. The state health services organisation said it had decided the immediate shutdown of the hospital for 48 hours for disinfection. Staff and patients who may have come into contact with the patient were being tested and visits were banned. All scheduled appointments, admissions, and surgeries were cancelled pending re-evaluation of the situation in 48 hours. Two of the other cases concern individuals who had returned from Italy and who had been in self-isolation. The other two incidents had also been in isolation after coming into contact with an individual who had tested positive previously. They had been tracked down as part of the ministry’s contact tracing process. This brings the total number of people found positive to 31. Five of the cases were reported in the north.
The government said on Saturday it expected many more COVID-19 cases but as long as the spread is controlled, it could be tackled. “A large percentage of our population will fall ill,” said government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos. “We can tackle it, provided the rise is controlled. At this stage the situation is under full control.” Critics say the government’s failure to shut down public areas like shopping malls, restaurants, and cafés would only help in the faster spread of the virus. On Friday night President Nicos Anastasiades announced a range of stricter measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus including closing the airports to all but residents of the island. The crossing points to the north have also been effectively closed. Schools will also remain closed until April 10. Koushos said measures were put in place on the basis of epidemiological data. “We follow the experts’ views and advice.” The spokesman suggested that other countries where the situation was worse had not taken the measures Cyprus has. “I must note that Cyprus is among the first countries that enforced the most drastic measures and if necessary… further measures will be put in place,” he said. Koushos said the system could keep up with all the arrivals, including the thousands of Cypriot students abroad who are expected to return during Easter. Observers have suggested going into lockdown, but the measures announced by President Nicos Anastasiades on Friday did not go that far. “Yes, the system can hold. This decision was not taken without expert views,” he said. Students who choose to return have to place themselves in isolation, according to the measures. The spokesman said it the state could not ban its citizens from coming home. “We are not a state without sensitivities; we are not an autocratic state. Students are also our citizens.” A student organisation earlier on Saturday appealed to Cypriot students studying abroad not to return for Easter in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
With Cyprus firmly in the grip of the coronavirus crisis the government has telegraphed a stimulus/relief package to tackle the anticipated economic slowdown. Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides this week announced a coming stimulus and relief package for businesses and individuals alike. “Undoubtedly there will be a substantial fiscal cost, the growth rate will be affected,” he said. Whenever an official says ‘substantial’, think ‘gigantic’. The government began hammering out a package when a number of interest groups wasted no time showing up and asking for support – hoteliers, industrialists, tour operators. It’s understood the measures will include deferred VAT payments for businesses, other tax breaks, and payments covering sick leave or the leave of absence from work of parents who have no support and who have to look after their children now that the schools are closed.