As Cyprus enters the final week of lockdown II to contain COVID-19, authorities are drafting a roadmap for a slow, gradual unlocking of the economy, as scientists remain wary.
Scientists advising the government on handling the outbreak, met President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday to present the latest data on the spread of coronavirus, making proposals for a gradual lifting of restrictions.
The island has been on lockdown since 10 January after cases spiralled reaching 907 just two days before the end of a coronavirus-stricken 2020.
Reportedly, scientists and the Health Ministry are reluctant in giving the green light over lifting measures too fast, arguing that restrictions should remain in place during February.
After meeting the experts, Anastasiades will attend the ministerial committee handling the effects of coronavirus to agree on plans to support businesses and employees who will not be able to return to work on 1 February.
On Tuesday, the final touches will be added by scientists and ministries involved with the final roadmap for lifting all measures being put to the vote at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.
The blueprint is expected to follow the lines of the one adopted last May for lifting the first lockdown imposed in March.
Measures are expected to be lifted in three phases with scientists opting not to set dates for phase two and three as they feel the situation is still fragile.
A conservative de-escalation is expected from 1 February with scientists seemingly agreeing to reopen shops, but not relaxing restrictions on people movement.
As of next Monday, retail shops, excluding those in malls and department stores could be allowed to reopen along with hairdressers and barbershops.
Restrictions on movement are expected to remain in place with people only allowed to leave the home twice a day, but with the added option to visit non-essential stores.
A 9 pm – 5 am curfew is also expected to remain in place with hospitality having to wait at least until phase two to reopen their doors.
Scientists are insisting that measures should remain in place to maintain social distancing and ban mass gatherings.
Schools are problematic
A return to schools is also a concern with a couple of scenarios mulled.
One provides for the return of primary school children and the scenario for the return of secondary school final-year students who need to prepare for their exams.
The final decision will be taken by the Education Ministry.
According to information leaked to the media, the Health Ministry appears ready to give retail businesses the green light on the condition they have their staff tested weekly.
Virologist Dr Peter Karayiannis said the scientific committee would like to, “ideally see cases drop below 100 before giving the go-ahead to the government to unlock the economy”.
“The fewer cases we have when we start lifting measures, the easier it will be for health authorities to monitor and control outbreaks.”
The government advisor believes Cyprus could see cases drop to double digits this week.
Karayiannis said that it would be dangerous to lift all measures at once as the virus is still present in the community.
He questioned the wisdom of opening retail stores at the same time as schools.
“We need to proceed with caution, so as not to bring down the success that we have built over the past few weeks with sacrifices and tough measures.”
Cyprus reported three more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, following Saturday’s four, raising the death toll for January dangerously close to December’s record 76.
Another 130 new COVID-19 cases confirmed taking the total past 30,000 infections, 3% of the population.