COVID19: Cyprus repairing air connectivity

3 mins read

Cyprus’ Transport Ministry is directing its energy to restore the island’s air connectivity as annual passenger traffic drops by 80% due to the coronavirus containment measures.

“Cyprus’ air connectivity was bound to take a serious blow, as the EU and the rest of the world went on lockdown with reopening being a task on its own,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told the Financial Mirror in an interview.

Despite just being able to restore connectivity to 20% compared to last year, Karousos feels that Cyprus did more than it could under the circumstances.

“Once Cyprus decided to reopen to the world under strict health protocols, we put forward an incentive scheme with which would see the state taking on part of the risk of bringing tourists back to the island,” said Karousos.

In June, the Council of Ministers approved a €6.3 mln incentive scheme to boost Cyprus’ air connectivity in the wake of lifting restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus.

This came after Cyprus banned all commercial flights in March until June 9.

The six-month scheme aims to encourage airlines to put Cyprus on their schedules by the government absorbing part of the risk.

“The incentives offered to airlines are based on their load factor.  Airlines are being subsidized only if they have a load factor of at least 40% and the calculation will be made based on the number of passengers between 40% and 70% of their capacity,” said Karousos.

“The second thing we did, was to categorise countries according to their epidemiological risk which has since been evaluated as a best practice by the European Union”.

Cyprus categorised countries into three categories A, B and C according to their epidemiological data.

Category A includes countries with an effective reproduction (Rt) number lower than 1 (<1/100,000 inhabitants per day) or/and small COVID-19 mortality (<5-10/100,000 inhabitants) or/and classification of sporadic cases or clusters according to the WHO or/and at least satisfactory laboratory testing (>3000 tests/100,000 inhabitants).

Arrivals from category A do not need to present a negative coronavirus test or self-isolate.

Category B includes countries, with a higher risk rate.

Those with R (t) above 1 and/or new cases of >1/100,000 and/or increased COVID-19 mortality (>10/100,000 people) and/or limited lab tests (<2000 tests/100,000 people) or lack of classification by WHO.

Arrivals from category B have to present a negative coronavirus test taken a maximum of 72 hours before boarding.

All countries which do not fall within the two categories fall in category C from which only Cypriots, residents or those with a special permit can enter.

All arrivals from category C must self-isolate for 14 days and then repeat a coronavirus test.

Airlines are coming back

Cyprus was able to attract 41,000 passengers in June, 198,000 in July, 300,000 in August for September numbers were between 250,000 and 300,000 – a fraction of normal airport traffic flows.

Passenger traffic is directly related to the number of countries which are on Cyprus’ safe list, argued Karousos.

“We currently have 29 airlines flying from 67 airports in 28 countries. There is an ever-growing demand from holidaymakers.

Tour operators are now coming on their own to put flights, whereas before they were hesitating to include Cyprus in their packages because the country requested visitors from category B countries to present a negative COVID-19 test.”

As he argued, in the end, market trends forced the two largest UK tour operators – Tui and Jet2 – to reinstate flights and packages to Cyprus.

“According to the Cyprus flight pass platform with which travellers need to register their data, 28% of all non-Cypriot arrivals are British,” said Karousos.

The minister compared that figure to the 13% of non-Cypriot arrivals coming from Greece and 12% from Germany.

“Some 70% of non-Cypriots arriving in the country, do so for holidays.”

Cyprus is calling on its European Union counterparts to take common action on air travel and connectivity to mitigate the negative impact of coronavirus.

Karousos sent a non-paper calling for joint action by all Member States with the ultimate aim of tackling the negative effects caused by the pandemic in the aviation sector.

He pointed out there is no uniformity when it comes to drawing up EU-wide criteria for categorising countries according to their epidemiological risk.

“Although health protocols are implemented to stem the spread of the virus, multiple systems in place are based on different entry requirements, thus further complicating travel procedures for the public, the airlines and the aviation industry in general,” said Karousos.

To overcome the current negative situation and increase traveller confidence, the Transport Ministry has proposed that member states adopt a common approach.

The Ministry suggests that passengers travelling from one EU country to another must meet common entry requirements regardless of their origin and destination.

Cyprus has also proposed the introduction of speed tests for travellers to be carried out at airports before their departure.

“This will help to stem the spread of the virus. Applying this practice will help passengers feel safer”.