Four elderly men and a woman died of COVID-19 on Thursday, raising the February death toll to nine and 208 since the pandemic started, just as lockdown measures were being relaxed and Cyprus was confident that new infections were slowing.
However, the health ministry said that new coronavirus cases had dropped to 116 from 139 the day before, while patient numbers also receded from 126 to 112, of whom 31 were critical, down from 39 on Wednesday.
With a record 31,379 PCR and rapid tests, the positivity rate was 0.41%, similar to the rates of the past week when mass testing was launched as lockdown measures were gradually lifted and 50% of employees were allowed to return to work.
Retail shops and most schools will reopen as of Monday, February 8, and all workplaces must ensure at least 20% of their staff are tested every week.
The ministry said the four men were aged 71 to 86, while the woman was 84 years old. All had underlying health issues and had been admitted to Nicosia General hospital.
The ratio was now 140 men (67%) and 68 women, with an average age of 79 years.
The health ministry said that 1,592 were PCR molecular tests and 26,813 were antigen rapid tests, a free national programme introduced form mid-November.
Some 26 new cases of SARS-CoV-2 were diagnosed through contact tracing of known infections and 71 returned positive form the rapid tests.
More than half, or 45, were in Limassol, by far the town with most infections since last March. The capital Nicosia was next with 10 new cases, Larnaca with 7, and 3 each in Paphos and Famagusta districts.
Of 812 tests in old people’s homes in all districts, only one tested positive.
At the same time, 249 samples taken from passengers arriving at Larnaca and Paphos airports were all negative, as were 41 samples from passengers who had arrived from the U.K. and remained in quarantine at local hotels for seven days.
A negative result is required to be released from quarantine, but passengers must remain in self-isolation for a further three days and need to be retested.
Cyprus to vaccinate over-65s with AstraZeneca
Meanwhile, Cyprus announced earlier on Thursday that it will use the AstraZeneca vaccine on the general population including those aged 65 and above.
Assistant Professor in Pharmacology, University of Nicosia Medical School, Christos Petrou told state CyBC TV the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approves all vaccines for the EU, approved AstraZeneca for adults of all ages over 18.
He said Germany and France’s decision not to administrate the AstraZeneca vaccine to people older than 65 was based on the fact they have enough vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to cover those groups.
A health ministry official said that 19,000 people have received at least the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, of which 5,500, mainly residents at homes and frontline health workers, have had the second jab.
Cyprus receives some 6,800 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech weekly with another 2,400 vaccines expected from Moderna this week.
The first batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine should arrive next week, with Cyprus expecting 69,000 doses within February.