COVID19: New cases rise again, diffusing hopes of lifting lockdown

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Cyprus reported 178 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, 14 more than the day before, but saw a small drop in the number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, with administration officials undecided about softening lockdown measures.

A 9pm curfew remains in place as all retail businesses have been shut, with the public limited to two visits a day using SMS permissions. All civil servants have been sent home, apart from essential services.

However, local media started reporting from Monday, based on leaks from administration officials, about potential measures that could be lifted after ‘Lockdown II’ ends on January 31.

Virologists have said these measures will continue for a while, until a significant part o the population is inoculated with the new vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, a small batch from Moderna and expected arrivals from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The health ministry also said that no deaths were reported, keeping the death toll for January unchanged at 53, catching up with December’s record 76, and the total since March now at 176.

Of the 194 patients at Covid wards in three hospitals, 60 are critical, one more than Tuesday. Some 63 infected with SARS-CoV-2 are being treated at the dedicated unit at Famagusta General, unchanged from the day before.

There were no patients admitted at the Makarios maternity hospital.

The number of infections since the pandemic started rose to 29,472.

The health ministry said in its daily bulletin that 9,884 tests were conducted using the PCR molecular method, as well as the less-accurate antigen rapid tests.

The 178 new cases arose from 58 diagnosed by tracing contacts of previous infections and 74 from the rapid tests.

There were no new cases from among the 98 passengers who were tested upon arrival at Larnaca and Paphos airports, while 31 people who had arrived from the U.K. and completed their seventh day of quarantine in local hotels, all tested negative and continued home to self-isolation. They will be retested in a few days’ time.

Of the rapid tests, 34 were diagnosed in Limassol, 26 in Nicosia, 10 in Larnaca and four in Paphos.

Some 1,247 residents and workers at old people’s homes were all tested negative. As part of targeted testing in the private sector, 66 were tested in media organisations, 1004 in industrial estates and 57 at construction sites, all with negative results.

 

Workplace cap relaxed to 25%

A week after standing firm on limiting the number of people returning to work after the second lockdown was imposed on January 10, the health ministry has revised the cap from 15% of the workforce to 25% of employees allowed to be back at work.

The maximum allowed in the workplace is also raised from 20 persons to 25 and the minimum is 3.

This after calls from employer organisations, business chambers and audit firms that the measure was a blow to the already suffering businesses, especially in the services sector.

Government sources told the Financial Mirror on Wednesday that the Health Ministry has relaxed the decision with Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou expected to issue a decree increasing the ceiling.

“These measures are extremely sensitive from an economic point of view, as companies are in mid-preparation of their financial statements for audit, requiring the physical presence of a sufficient number of employees not only of the audited firms but also the auditors,” said a statement issued last week by business groups.

Health authorities had remained firm on their decision arguing that changing the decision went against the philosophy of the lockdown.

The Ministry told businesses demanding change, that the new measures aimed at limiting social contacts, activities, and contacts between employees in the workplace.

Scientific findings indicate that a significant number of COVID-19 cases were detected at law firms, accountant, and audit offices.