A municipal worker disinfects the area near St Lazarus church in Larnaca

COVID19: Measures extended to Jan 10, late curfew on Christmas, New Year’s eve

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Cyprus has decided to extend measures currently in place for another two weeks to stem the further spread of the coronavirus, while allowing for some mild relaxations over the festive period.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced on Tuesday that as a result of a worsening epidemiological picture, earlier measures which include a 9pm curfew and a ban on restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as cinemas and theatres, will have to remain in place until January 10.

The minister did say, however, that some moderate relaxations would be introduced over the festive period, with the curfew being extended to 11 pm on Christmas Eve and to 1am on New Year’s Eve.

This mild relaxation was welcomed by members of the Cyprus Hoteliers’ Association, who said that hotel restaurants may operate, but can only serve their overnight guests.

As announced earlier, the same curfew limitations apply, with hotel restaurants closing at 9pm up until January 10, but probably be allowed to serve staying guests up to 11 pm on Christmas Eve and to 1am on New Year’s Eve.

CHA members also say they are allowed to accommodate 40 people at their indoor restaurants and 180 people outside.

Churchgoers will also be allowed to congregate for Christmas mass on December 25 and on January 6, limited to a maximum of 75 people, on the basis of one church goer for every 3 square meters.

Announcing the government’s decisions on Tuesday, the Health Minister said that authorities found themselves in the unfortunate position to have to extend measures announced on December 9 which were to last until the end of the year.

“Our latest effort launched two weeks ago focused on achieving a significant improvement in the epidemiological situation and bringing down the epidemiological indicators that were at the worst point since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Ioannou.

The minister added that results do not leave room for any relaxation, as virologists have advised the government that epidemiological indicators are in the red.

He noted that although case numbers are beginning to stabilise, they are still high, with a growing trend of positive cases traced through the ministry’s free national rapid testing programme.

“The number of hospitalised patients is between 110 and 130 people, while the number of intubated patients in the intensive care units is high, burdening the country’s health system. What is of greater concern is the daily number of deaths that continue, an indication that measures need to be taken to protect those considered as high-risk,” said Ioannou.

 

Mild relaxations to help with social fatigue

The minister said that the government had worked psychological as well as social factors into the equation, acknowledging society’s fatigue, deciding to allow some mild relaxations, as follows:

  1. The measures announced on December 9 are extended until January 10, 2021. The situation will be regularly reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Committee.
  2. On December 24, 2020, the curfew will be extended to 11 p.m. and on New Year’s eve until 1 a.m. Gatherings at homes will still be restricted to ten people, including minors.
  3. Acknowledging the need of the faithful to attend mass on important religious days, the Cabinet has decided to allow mass to be carried out with up to 75 people in churches on the December 25 and on January 6. Churches will have to keep to the one person for every 3 square meter rule, meaning that smaller churches may not be able to accommodate 75 people.

“At the moment there does not seem to be any noticeable improvement and for this reason, we are continuing with very careful steps, with these small exceptions that will give some psychological stimulus to the public,” said Ioannou.

Concluding, the health minister urged the public to be very cautious over the festive season, noting that the only way to keep cases from increasing further in the run-up to the vaccinations that start on December 27, is to stay patient and vigilant for a while longer.

Vaccinations will commence on Sunday with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, named Comirnaty, expected to arrive in the coming days. The cold-storage freezers with a capacity of 130,000 doses at -70C arrived last weekend.

The vaccination is expected, at a first stage, to bring down the Cyprus death rate which has shot up in December, which is the deadliest month on record since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some 96 died as a result of being infected with COVID-19, of which nearly half or 45 in December alone. Of all the deaths, 62 were men and 34 women, with an average age of 79 years.

Monday’s 286 new cases took Cyprus’ SARS-CoV-2 infections’ tally to 18,004.