Cyprus reported 143 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, lower than the 5-week high of 176 the day before, but stubbornly above the 100-level it had seen the past two weeks.
The rise in daily COVID-19 cases is also worrying the authorities, as more lockdown measures are expected to be relaxed on Monday, with new clusters forming, primarily linked to Limassol.
The health ministry said that an elderly woman, aged 86, with underlying health issues, died at Limassol General hospital, raising the death toll since the pandemic started to 231.
This also raised the total for February to 30, while December and January remained the deadliest months on record with 76 each. Of these, 154 were men (67%) and 77 women, with an average age of 79 years.
The ministry said that 81 patients are currently being treated for the coronavirus, of whom 25 are critical, unchanged from the day before. The total is equal to the 81 patients admitted up to Sunday, with the number dropping to 76 on Monday and 78 on Tuesday.
In all, some 26,603 PCR and rapid tests were conducted on Wednesday, with 143 new cases of SARS-CoV-2 diagnosed. All infections from last March rose to 33,710.
Of the new infections, 49 were diagnosed through contact tracing and two more from probing secondary contacts, while 76 resulted from the 24,909 private and free national rapid tests.
Once again, Limassol accounted for most of the new infections, 51 in total, followed by Larnaca (11), Nicosia (7), Famagusta (3) and Paphos (1).
Some 805 tests of staff and residents at retirement homes all tested negative.
Limassol clusters a concern
Earlier in the day, media reports identified the Anorthosis handball team as accounting for a cluster of 20 COVID-19 infections, involving players and staff.
Anorthosis is currently playing in the European Handball Federation European Cup, the equivalent of the Champions League in football.
Without naming the team, health ministry spokesperson Margarita Kyriacou told ANT1 TV on Wednesday: “It is evident the team’s players and staff did not respect the measures in place against Covid-19 and that nobody supervised the situation”.
COVID-19 clusters have also been detected at two Limassol primary schools, with one of them forced to close, it emerged on Wednesday.
Health authorities were alerted when COVID-19 cases were found among pupils at the Melina Merkouri and Ayios Georgios primary schools, both in the village of Polemidia in the Limassol district.
All pupils at Ayios Georgios stayed home on Wednesday, while only 35 of the 200 at Melina Merkouri showed up for class.
The health ministry said its track and trace teams are working on finding contacts of the families involved.
Limassol’s COVID-19 outbreak is of concern to scientists, as the district has consistently generated a higher test positivity rate compared to other areas of the Republic.
Cases from Limassol represent two-thirds of all daily COVID-19 infections with the positivity rate rising from an average of 0.5% in previous weeks to 0.96% on Tuesday.
Scientists advising the government said that Limassol may have to endure tighter measures than the rest of the country, as COVID-19 cases have spiralled there.
The third phase of easing lockdown starts on Monday, but hospitality venues are not expected to open, nor will a night-time curfew be lifted.
The government is concerned over the return of High school students, as COVID-19 cases have reappeared in schools that have opened.
Businesses are allowed to have up to 50% of their staff at work on the condition they follow the weekly testing guideline.
A minimum of 20% of employees need to be tested weekly.
A second lockdown was imposed on January 10 after new daily coronavirus cases soared to 907 on December 29.
As of Monday, gyms are expected to re-open, dance schools, organised sports for children and adults.
The number of people allowed in theatres and cinemas may be increased, from the current cap of 50 people, although cinemas have opted not to open yet.
A ban on visiting nature trails and the mountain regions is also expected to be lifted.