COVID19: Cyprus ramps up mass testing drive

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Cyprus will continue to rely on free mass rapid testing to keep coronavirus in check, as one-fifth of the population took a COVID-19 test last week, said the Health Ministry on Monday.

In the past week, one-fifth of Cyprus’ population aged over 12, or 273,000, people have undergone a rapid antigen test.

Ahead of new lockdown relaxations, the Health Ministry stressed it was through targeted tests, vaccinations, and adherence to COVID protocols that Cyprus can safely exit from the pandemic.

Scientists are preparing the roadmap for another step out of lockdown as on 16 March hospitality is expected to reopen.

“The effort to ensure the proper restart of society and the economy continues with targeted increased testing programs.

“The Government’s strategy from the outset was based on conducting mass tests following the recommendations of the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC),” said the Health Ministry.

There have been complaints from the public, especially by teachers and students, after making weekly rapid tests compulsory for children and teaching staff in gymnasiums and lyceums.

School authorities have reported that some parents are unwilling to allow their children to undergo a weekly rapid test.

Some scientists have also said the ministry’s testing program was not well planned, submitting a large part of the population to regular tests, rather than focussing on areas where clusters could form.

Regular testing is also in place for employees back at work, while those yet to return will need to carry out a coronavirus test beforehand.

Where up to three people work in the same place, all must be tested weekly, while businesses with four to 10 people must ensure at least four are tested each week.

Workplaces with more than 10 staff need to test at least four people or 20% of employees each week, whichever is greater in number.

At least 50% of employees and athletes of team sports need to repeat the tests weekly.

The Health Ministry said the ECDC has advised countries to carry out mass tests to monitor the epidemiological situation in the community due to new variants of the virus.

It said Cyprus has won praise from the ECDC, while other countries in Europe such as Germany and the UK were adopting the same policy in recognition of the importance of tests in tackling the pandemic.

“Taking a test which returns negative does not replace the responsibility to comply with social distancing, wearing a mask or personal hygiene,” noted the ministry.