An elderly man died of the coronavirus on Friday and 198 patients remain hospitalised for COVID-19 in Cyprus, two days before the country imposes a second lockdown to stop the virus from spreading.
Some 466 new cases of SARS-CoV-2 were diagnosed, with the total infections since the pandemic started rising to 26,674.
Earlier in the day, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced that “Lockdown II” would begin Sunday morning, after recent restrictions failed to control the virus and in order to protect the health service.
Although the number of new infections seem to have stabilized this week, daily cases have remained above 400, peaking at a critical 907 on December 29.
“For the next three weeks we will have to stay in our homes to stop the spread of the virus,” Ioannou told reporters.
“The effort aims to drastically reduce social and professional gatherings in homes and workplaces because that is where most (Covid-19) cases are found,” he added.
People will only be allowed out twice a day for essential travel or exercise. while all non-vital businesses will close. Unlike the first lockdown in March, the airports and ports will remain open.
According to the health ministry, the man who died was 93 and had underlying health issues. He was being treated at the Covid-reference clinic at Famagusta General hospital.
This raised the death toll in January to 16 and 141 to date. December remains the deadliest month with 76 deaths.
Some 198 patients have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, four more than the day before, and are being treated in state hospitals, 52 of whom are critical.
Of all the patients, more than a third, or 71, have been admitted to the Famagusta hospital.
The health ministry added that 12,831 tests were conducted on Friday, both with the PCR molecular method and the less-accurate antigen rapid tests.
Of the 466 new cases, 171 were identified by tracing known contacts of previous infections. Four were passengers arriving at Larnaca and Paphos airports.
All arrivals from the UK, where a severe strain of the coronavirus has spread, are quarantined in local hotels, at the Cypriot taxpayer’s expense. On the seventh day of their stay, they are re-tested and if they are negative for COVID-19, are allowed to leave, but remain in self-isolation for a further three days.
The health ministry said that of 147 arrivals from the UK who were in quarantine, two tested positive.
Of the 216 diagnosed with rapid tests, 84 were in Limassol, 64 in Nicosia, 47 in Larnaca, 11 in Famagusta and 6 in Paphos. Four more were tested positive in old people’s homes in Nicosia.
Aim to lift measures by May
Meanwhile, as the national inoculation programme got underway on Friday, the health minister said that the government hopes to be able to lift all COVID-19 measures by early May, if people abide by the regulations and vaccinations pick up speed.
Ioannou said, his Ministry aims to safeguard the health system so that increased vaccination coverage will reduce the number of cases needed to be hospitalised.
He called on the public to respect the new lockdown to achieve the desired results, allowing for a speedier de-escalation of measures with positive effects on both the economy and people’s mental health.
It is hoped the vaccination programme, currently using 6,800 Pfizer-BioNTech jabs a week, will pick up speed once AstraZeneca’s vaccine is approved, allowing for measures to be entirely lifted by early May.
Cyprus, like some other EU member states, placed all its bets on the AstraZeneca vaccines, even though Pfizer-BioNTech’s “Comirnaty” was approved by the European Medical Authority in late December and Moderna’s vaccine earlier this week.