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COVID19: President Anastasiades calls off Israel visit over virus fears

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Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has postponed his planned official visit to Jerusalem next week after concerns over the worsening coronavirus situation in Israel.

Anastasiades was due to visit Israel on Tuesday for high-level discussions energy, tourism and defence but both sides agreed to postpone until a later date.

Government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said Anastasiades spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and they agreed to reschedule in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

“During the discussion, it was agreed that in view of the developments regarding the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, it is appropriate, under the circumstances, to postpone the visit of the President of the Republic to Israel on 23 June,” said Koushos in a written statement.

“It was further agreed, as soon as conditions allow, to set a new date for the visit to Israel as soon as possible,” he added.

Anastasiades would have been just the second world leader to visit since the coronavirus pandemic led Israel to close its borders in early March.

It would have also been the Cypriot leader’s first foreign trip since the outbreak.

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his ministers visited Israel earlier this week to discuss the same issues, including the EastMed gas pipeline.

During Mitsotakis’ visit, Netanyahu said Israel was planning to reopen its borders to tourism with Greece and Cyprus starting August 1.

Israelis had already begun to return to Cyprus earlier this month, becoming the first tourists to visit the island as it reopened its airports on June 9 to countries with relatively low infection rates.

However, on June 11, Cyprus relegated Israel from its low-risk category, meaning that Israelis wishing to visit will need to carry a special certificate of health to prove they are COVID-19 negative.

Those in the lowest risk category do not need to be tested upon arrival from June 20 such as visitors from Greece, Malta and Bulgaria.

Israel in May saw the number of new daily coronavirus cases drop to only a few dozen but has since seen a spike COVID-19 infections with close to 200 new cases each day.

On Thursday, it passed 20,000 virus cases; 303 people have died from the virus in the country.

Cyprus has tallied 985 total coronavirus cases and 19 deaths and has looked to jump-start its battered tourism sector.

Israelis make up the third-largest group of tourists to Cyprus.

Israel’s already warm ties with Nicosia got a boost in January when they signed a deal with Greece for a huge pipeline project to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, despite Turkey’s hostility to the deal.

The 2,000-kilometer EastMed pipeline will be able to carry between nine and 12 billion cubic metres of gas a year from offshore reserves held by Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other south-eastern European countries.

The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a scramble for the energy riches and a row between Cyprus and Turkey.