Two elderly people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, one of whom at 98 is the oldest in the coronavirus death toll in Cyprus, with the government deciding to impose stricter measures up until New Year’s eve as the situation remains out of control.
At the same time, 116 patients are being treated in state hospitals, of whom 23 are critical, stretching the capabilities to the limit, as recent clusters mainly in elderly care homes has raised alarm among health officials.
The two deaths, both at the Covid-referral clinic of Famagusta General hospital and both with underlying health issues, were a 79 year old man who had been a resident at the Chrysi Ilikia (‘Golden Age’) old people’s home, and a 98 year old man, raising the average age by a year to 77.
This raises the total since the pandemic started to 70 deaths, of which 21 were in the first nine days of the month, with December headed to be the worst month to date.
Wednesday’s new cases dropped slightly to 363, the fourth highest daily count this month and to date, for a total 13,649 SARS-CoV-2 infections since March.
Included among the new cases were 111 positive results from the antigen rapid tests from previous days that required confirmation through the more accurate PCR molecular method.
In all, 12,253 tests were conducted on Wednesday – 3,829 PCR tests and 8,424 rapid tests – with the latter diagnosing a further 236 positive results that will require PCR confirmation. This outcome will probably push Thursday’s new daily cases beyond 400.
Two positive rapid test results in Larnaca were from the Oasis Ayios Georgios old peoples’ home, while of the 9 diagnosed by PCR, two are from the Ayios Antonios home in Nicosia and the remaining seven from Peristerona, both being major clusters in previous weeks.
With the December tally already reaching 2,984, it is almost half the figure for the entire previous month and a quarter of all cases to date. The worst month on record was November with 6,157 new coronavirus cases confirmed.
Of the 236 positive diagnoses from rapid tests, 76 were in Larnaca, 74 in Nicosia and 36 in Famagusta. Limassol and Paphos, the epicentre of clusters in earlier months accounted for 21 and only 4 new cases. Six positive results were soldiers serving in the National Guard, while 19 were diagnosed from private rapid tests. The national rapid test programme, offered at 23 locations, are free and subsidised by the state.
This high number prompted the Anastasiades administration to call an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning to announce new restrictions that include extending the 9pm curfew to the entire nation and up until December 31. High school and university students will complete the rest of the month’s lessons on line, while kindergartens and elementary schools will remain open, with virologists saying the infection risk among younger age groups is far lower.
Church services will be held without the public present, from the previous decree that allowed 75 faithful and clergy to attend. This means that Christmas will be an at-home occasion, as was Easter that coincided with the first total lockdown.
Cafés, bars, community clubs and restaurants will shut down from Friday and only serve take-away or delivery orders, while shopping malls, theatres, dance schools and gyms will also close, with shop-owners screaming disaster having already suffered throughout the year.
Televised news reports showed long queues of people waiting outside the malls of Paphos and Limassol, with some enterprises slashing prices as Thursday will be their last day for business this year. Standalone stores, such as supermarkets, will be allowed to operate and employees will not be prevented from going to work.
Businesses in Limassol and Paphos were already closed throughout most of November with a lockdown imposed on both towns due to worrying infection cases and clusters earlier that month.
However, the Limassol Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday accused the government of discrimination, as Nicosia and Larnaca that now have the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases will not undergo a lockdown as they did last month.