COVID19: 4 deaths, rise in cases undermine lockdown relaxation

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Four people died of coronavirus in Cyprus on Thursday, with January just two short of becoming the deadliest month since the pandemic started.

At the same time, the rate of new COVID-19 cases continued to rise, having seen a steady drop from the record 907 on December 29, with many doubting the government’s wisdom to relax lockdown measures from February 1.

The partial removal of restrictions include allowing hair and nail salons to reopen, shopping malls from the second week of February, as Lyceum high school graduate students return to classes.

Gyms will remain closed, as will theatres, the entire restaurants sector, bars and cafés, and a 9pm curfew will stay in place.

The four new deaths raised the January death toll to 74, just behind December’s 76, with the total since March now at 197. Two were male, aged 55 and 58, with underlying health issues, while two women, 73 and 75, had no medical problems.

The number of patients admitted at the four state hospitals was 153 from Wednesday’s 155, at similar levels as previous days, with those critical now at 51, one less than the day before.

Virologists say that the irresponsible urge to head to the Troodos mountains last weekend, with entire families declaring they went for exercise, will have repercussions on the spread of the virus which will appear towards the end of this week.

As a result, the government said on Wednesday that all nature trails would close to the public.

Thursday’s 158 new SARS-CoV-2 cases is up from Wednesday’s 128 and 109 on Tuesday. The number of total infections to date is now 30,538.

These were diagnosed from 13,594 tests. Of these, 38 were traced from contacts of known infections, and 96 from antigen rapid tests.

Thursday was also the first day when the national rapid test programme was boosted to a daily capacity of 20,000 samples, increasing the testing centres to 51. However, despite the tests offered to the public for free, as well as to those returning to work, only 11,929 samples were taken.

Of the 96 cases identified by the less-accurate rapid tests, Limassol was once again in the lead with 45 positive results, followed by 31 in Nicosia, 12 in Larnaca, 5 in Paphos and 3 in Famagusta district.


Hairdressers to open, restaurants remain closed

Authorities will allow hairdressers and beauty salons to reopen from Monday February 1, up to 50% of staff can return to work in the services sector and limited family gatherings will be permitted.

Malls, large department stores, and primary schools will reopen a week later, on February 8, as well as the graduating class of the lyceum high schools.

Churches will also reopen for worship after that date, with a maximum of 50 people in attendance. However, restaurants, bars and cafés will continue to remain closed.

The rapid tests will continue to Sunday, from 8am to 6.30pm, and those returning to work, including public school teachers, must have a negative test result to be allowed back.

Staff will need to test regularly and on a weekly basis as follows:

  • Where up to 3 people work in the same department, all have to be tested;
  • Where 4 to 10 people work in the same department, at least 4 need to be tested;
  • Where more than 10 people work in the same department, at least 4 need to be tested or at least 20% of the workforce.

The ministry said that health inspectors will randomly visit places of work to ensure the protocols are maintained and that staff are tested on a weekly basis.

For those businesses wishing to conduct rapid tests privately for their employees, the health ministry said that the antigen rapid test has been set at €20 per test.