Four elderly people died on Tuesday as Cyprus health officials announced a record 907 new cases of SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that the government is fighting a losing battle, despite the launch of an islandwide vaccination programme.
With the coronavirus health crisis no longer manageable, the government may proceed with a widely anticipated all-out lockdown having introduced stricter measures earlier in the day.
On Monday, the health ministry said it diagnosed 751 new cases of COVID-19, prompting the government on Tuesday to ban all home visits and restrict the bubble to members of the household.
It also decided to send nearly all civil servants to work from home, leaving the state to operate only with skeleton staff, a decision that nearly paralysed the government machine during earlier lockdowns.
Tuesday’s decisions are an extension of the measures in place until January 10, which despite closing restaurants, bars, cafes and malls entirely, allowed for some relaxation during the holidays and the return of churchgoers for Christmas mass.
Up to ten people from only two families or households will be allowed on New Year’s eve, when the curfew has been extended to 1am.
Tuesday’s four deaths were two men aged 82 and 84, and two women, 83 and 88, all with underlying health issues.
This raised the death toll since the pandemic started to 117, with December alone accounting for 68 of these deaths. The average age was 80 years.
At the same time, the health ministry said that 154 patients are still being treated at state hospitals, 42 of whom remain in a critical state. The total is up one from Monday’s 153 patients, but those who are critical are down from 51 the day before.
Of these, 63 are at the Covid-reference clinic at Famagusta General hospital, with other hospitals operating at near-capacity levels.
A record 18,070 tests were conducted on Tuesday, using both the PCR molecular method and the less accurate antigen rapid tests, that will no longer require PCR verification in order to be considered a confirmed COVID-19 case.
The 907 new infections raised the total diagnosed with coronavirus since March to 21,315.
Ten of the new cases diagnosed from 652 tests on passengers arriving at Larnaca and Paphos airports. Visitors from the UK are placed in quarantine in local hotels for 10 days.
The nationwide free rapid tests traced 108 new cases in Nicosia, 85 in Larnaca, 73 in Limassol, 27 in Famagusta district and 19 in Paphos. A further 29 were diagnosed as positive in old people’s homes, 15 soldiers serving in the National Guard and 13 frontline health workers.
National vaccination programme underway
Cyprus’ inoculation programme kicked-off on Sunday, after the first batch of 9,750 vaccines were received on Saturday.
Health Ministry sources say Cyprus will receive another 6,800 doses before the end of the year with vaccinations conducted as planned.
President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Latsia outpatients’ health centre near Nicosia, calling the vaccination a “gift of life” for Cyprus.
Following his vaccination, the President said there is now hope that the pandemic, which overturned peoples’ normal lives and livelihoods will finally come to an end.
On Tuesday, it was Archbishop Chrysostomos’ turn to be inoculated and he urged the public to be careful and stick to health rules.
“We must realise that in addition to all the other illnesses we live with, we have this disease as well. With the vaccine we will have some safety, but we must all realise that we have to be strict, to stick to the measures introduced by the government, because if we don’t, we will be in trouble,” the archbishop said.
He added that “the virus does not discriminate between the young and the old, so we must all be careful and especially those of us who have some other health issues.”