COVID19: Cyprus ‘success story’ a lesson for the EU

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Cyprus has been successful in controlling COVID-19 but must keep on its toes while the EU should improve the overall quality of healthcare to be better positioned to deal with pandemics, said Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou.

“We are successful so far, but we need to stay successful. We need to be vigilant, not complacent and make sure that when we open our borders, we are still a safe destination,” Ioannou told Politico news site.

Asked why Cyprus has so few cases and deaths, Ioannou said the government drew up a strategic plan on how to manage the pandemic through public hospitals by increasing capacity, especially for ICU units.

“We paid special attention to comprehensive testing and surveillance mechanism strategies, especially contact tracing. We tested nearly 12% of the population. And we planned ahead — we started sourcing equipment as early as February”.

He said there was never a moment when Cyprus’ hospitals were overwhelmed.

“We had a designated hospital for mild COVID cases. We increased our ICU capacity by cancelling elective surgeries and drawing doctors and healthcare professionals from the private sector.

We also secured the services of a big rehabilitation centre to isolate asymptomatic cases. We never use more than 25% of the available ICUs.”

Ioannou said that at the designated hospital, the maximum occupancy for the first week in April was 60%.

“We have 500 beds in hotels to cater to tourists who may test positive but are asymptomatic.”

Asked what else Cyprus is doing to ensure that tourism does not create a new wave of the virus, Ioannou said that even for tourists arriving from [low-risk] countries will be successful.

“We want to randomly test a sample of 3-4 per cent every day, at our expense, just to make sure. We want to be as subtle as possible so people can enjoy the holidays.”

EU solidarity 

Ioannou said mistakes were made at an EU level where a lack of solidarity was evident.

“Solidarity was stressed from Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. But maybe at the beginning, each member state was trying to navigate on its own”.

Noting that there might have been some delays, Ioannou said it is understandable “when you have to coordinate 27 countries and there are shortages all over the world”.

He also said that Cyprus did not put in an order for PPE as it has managed to secure up to 75 tonnes of personal protective equipment from China.

But because the pandemic will be here until a vaccine is found, “we will definitely need the PPE in the months ahead, so EU procurement will be useful”.

Ioannou argued that for small countries like Cyprus, there was always a problem in procuring.

“It’s always been an issue for us to secure pharmaceuticals, especially innovative medicines. We’ve been calling for transparency in pharmaceuticals and equal pricing.

In Cyprus, the price we get for the medicine maybe 10 times the price in Germany or Holland. So, these are issues where we want to see more action and solidarity”.

“We want to make sure that if the vaccine is found there won’t be any priority depending on the size of the country.

However, he remarked, “I think we need to wait for at least 12 months before a vaccine is found, so we need to live with COVID-19”.

The minister said more should be invested in healthcare systems across the EU.

“If we improve the overall quality of health care in the EU then we would be better positioned to deal with issues like COVID-19 in the future.”