COVID19: Cypriot leaders agree to reopen crossings

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Cypriot leaders agreed on Thursday to gradually re-open crossing points across the island’s UN-patrolled ceasefire line from June 8 after successfully containing coronavirus on both sides of the divide.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said he contacted Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on his own initiative to discuss gradually reopening crossing points.

“The two men came to a mutual understanding to allow crossings where vehicles are allowed to pass from June 8,” said a statement by Cyprus government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos.

Among those to be allowed to cross from the Turkish-held north of the island, are 1525 Turkish Cypriot construction workers who work in the Greek Cypriot south.

They have staged demonstrations against authorities in the north for not allowing them to go back to work when construction sites in the south opened on May 4.

Others allowed to cross will be Turkish Cypriot students, those receiving cancer treatment and attending hospital appointments.

Turkish Cypriot pupils will be allowed to cross on foot from Nicosia’s Ledra Palace crossing, from where buses will carry them to their schools.

“The Cyprus government will regularly conduct random checks on people who pass through crossing points,” Koushos said.

He said the leaders also agreed to convene a meeting of the bi-communal technical committee on health, to exchange views about the gradual lifting of restrictions at crossing points, depending on the epidemiological situation.

On February 28, the Cyprus government closed four of the eight crossing points as a precaution against COVID-19.

Once the north had its first case of coronavirus on March 10 it closed all the crossings soon after.

Turkish Cypriot health authorities have not reported any new COVID-19 infections since April, they have a total of 108 cases and four deaths.

The Republic of Cyprus eased lockdown measures on Thursday after keeping new infections in single figures.

Total COVID-19 cases in the Republic have reached 922 and 17 deaths.

The coronavirus pandemic saw the crossings close for the first time since they opened in 2003.

UN-brokered reunification talks between Anastasiades and Akinci have been suspended since July 2017.