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COVID19: Mask on, mask off

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6 mins read

While our attention strayed to escalating brinkmanship in the East Med as Turkey plays pirates of the Aegean there was a worrying turn of events closer to home where COVID-19 remains the real enemy.

Locally transmitted cases are beginning to pop-up in the community where the source of the infection is unknown.

The non-scientific name for these cases is ‘orphan’ because they are of unknown origin, although the more troubling trend is that they have mostly cropped up in Limassol.

This suggests that the virus is spreading with no means to contain it if the source of infection is unknown which is why the Health Ministry sent out a plea for Cypriots to maintain hygiene standards.

During the health emergency, Limassol had the best COVID record for low transmission and case ratios.

A new COVID-19 hotspot in Cyprus would undo all the good work, sacrifice that Cypriot society endured during a harsh lockdown regime that kept us at home for three months.

Things have gradually got back to normal, but Cypriot have failed to embrace the new normal of social distancing post-lockdown.

A majority behaves as if the outbreak never happened in Cyprus while feeling no need to be overly cautious in our daily lives.

But it is exactly this laissez-faire approach which will open the back door to the virus, ushering a new wave of infections that will trigger another lockdown.

It has been suggested that this time around there will be local lockdowns rather than a grand sweep of the brush across the island.

Although suffering a new outbreak while Cyprus is promoting itself as one of the safest holiday destinations in Europe would not be a good look.

If our epidemiological data goes south, it could prevent Cypriots travelling abroad as they would be barred from entry into other countries.

Coronavirus has not gone away; we gave it a bloody nose so we could come out of self-isolation, but COVID-19 is a clever little blighter that preys on our weakness for human contact.

Health authorities need to get back on message, warning the public the virus is contained but can spread if we don’t respect the risks.

As Cyprus escaped the worst of the pandemic, it did not go down the road of insisting that people wear masks when visiting shops or other indoor spaces like shopping malls.

Wearing masks is obligatory for people who serve the public in confined spaces like shops, supermarkets, government departments, hospitals, GP centres.

Guidelines ignored

Even though this is mandatory, you will come across many places in the private or public sector that do not follow the guidelines.

I don’t always wear a face covering, as I am forgetful but on the occasion I do venture into a shop wearing a mask people look at you as if the Elephant Man has just walked in.

There is also a misunderstanding about social distancing, it doesn’t mean standing right next to someone in a queue and breathing all over them.

Those signs on the floor placed two metres apart, stand on them and wait, don’t pretend they are invisible.

Most shops, bakeries, restaurants believe they have done their bit if they stick a few well-placed hand sanitizers about.

Some places will have a sign limiting the number of customers allowed in while others just allow a free-for-all with people jostling to get served.

As a rule, most establishments pay scant regard for social distancing or hygiene protocols – how many bars and restaurants do you see disinfecting tables after each customer has left?

Many bars are only interested in packing people in to make a huge profit while the summer lasts with the authorities unwilling to name and shame offenders.

The government is adamant about controlling who comes into the country to reduce the risk of a new wave of infections but is taking its eye off the prize at home.

Granted, the number of daily COVID-19 cases is low but there is still transmission in the community where tracking and tracing recent infections has hit a wall.

Without being able to trace the source of infection coronavirus is more likely to spread, creating clusters or hotspots where cases will spike.

Once this happens our hard-won freedom will come crashing down as the only alternative without a vaccine is lockdown mode.

Ignoring the new normal is not the road we should be travelling down after adhering to the laws of science we must not regress into a society of COVID-19 deniers.

Saving lives, jobs and the economy depend on it.