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COVID19: Masks on, handshakes off for foreseeable future

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Hot-blooded Cypriots must continue to keep their distance and emotions in check while masks are to become part of our daily attire in the pre-vaccine coronavirus landscape.

Talking to the Financial Mirror, Cyprus Health Ministry advisor virologist Dr Peter Karayiannis, said the virus is here to stay for some time, at least until a vaccine is found, which could take a minimum of six months to a year to be developed.

“During that time, Cypriots will have to get used to a new way of life, which will include continuing to abide by social distancing guidelines,” said Karayiannis.

Commenting on how long the virus will be with us, Karayiannis said that if the virus is to behave as any other pathogen, then we will probably see it returning every winter, just like the flu.

“The only way we will be rid of the virus is if a vaccine to provide herd immunity or medication which will be the cure to the disease is developed. This could be at least six months away.”

On the bright side, Karayiannis spoke of a medical team at Oxford University, which has developed a vaccine which is about to go into the second testing stage.

As he explained, the vaccine was developed from an adenovirus, from which researchers removed a part of its RNA, and replaced it with a protein from the coronavirus.

“This vaccine will basically infect the host with part of the coronavirus, forcing the host to produce antibodies.

What we don’t know is whether there will be enough antibodies created and whether they will offer a lifetime immunity to the coronavirus,” said Karayiannis.

He added that the virus in the vaccine will have a life circle which will allow it to infect one host, which means it will not be transmissible to other people.

He said this vaccine could be ready sometime in September and according to the developers, it will not raise bio-security issues.

The developers are planning to produce 1 million vaccines in the coming months.

No family visits

“But until then we will need to refrain from family visits, mass gatherings and even change the way we greet each other. Handshakes will be replaced with elbow greetings. Measures will not be withdrawn overnight in any case,” said Karayiannis.

Masks, as he said, will become part of our daily attire.

“People working in offices, going to the bank, to public services, all will have to wear masks”

On easing the lockdown, Karayiannis said that the reopening of restaurants, coffee shops and bars is something that will have to be discussed further down the road.

“If we have zero cases, then we might think of becoming a bit bolder. But in any case, people should hold back from organising events such as weddings and christenings. Sports events may get the green light sometime in June”.

Asked about when to expect airports to open, the virologist said this scenario would be even further down the line as it will depend on cases in Cyprus and in other countries.

“Maybe sometime in the summer, but we will have to be very cautious, maybe even asking for travellers to get tested before they hop on a plane to come to Cyprus”.

“Our whole way of living will be affected. We will certainly need to reevaluate a number of our habits as a warm Mediterranean people.”

Embracing, hugging and kissing relatives on the cheek or the welcoming handshake are all traditional greetings and show of affection that need to be dropped.