Cyprus on Friday declared it would enter its third national lockdown since the pandemic began after a surge in coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm the health service.
After a cabinet meeting on Friday, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced the country would go into another lockdown for 14 days from 26 April until midnight 9 May.
“The growing number of infections combined with intense pressure on the health system cannot leave us indifferent and requires difficult decisions, drastic measures,” Ioannou told reporters.
“And the only way left is to reduce mobility, our close contacts, the reduction of cases,” he added.
The move comes as Cypriots were expecting to celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter next week, the most important holiday of the year.
It took the government two days to deliberate over the decision, but it could not ignore the steady rise in cases even if the death count is relatively low.
Cyprus is currently suffering the third wave of Covid-19 infections fuelled by the more potent UK variant, with daily cases peaking at a record 941 on Tuesday.
The 14-day accumulative rate is also at an all-time high of 937 per 100,000 population (up from 749.5), the health ministry said.
Ioannou said a short, sharp lockdown would help the island’s vaccination rollout play catch up and ease pressure on hospitals witnessing record patient admissions.
“We are in a very difficult phase of the pandemic. The epidemiological data is burdened by the British variant, contributing to increased cases, especially among the younger ages.”
The Mediterranean island was easing its way out of a second lockdown on 10 January after daily cases hit a record 907 on 29 December.
Retail shops opened in February; students returned to schools while hospitality was allowed to cater in outdoor facilities from last month.
A curfew remained but was relaxed to commence from 11 pm instead of 9 pm, while limited home visits were also allowed.
Under new measures to commence on 26 April, the curfew is rowed back to 9 pm; home visits are banned, as are social gatherings with hospitality, gyms and non-essential shops all having close again.
Cypriots can only send one SMS text message, from the current twice-daily ration, for permission to leave home for non-work-related reasons.
There will be minor relaxations for Easter Saturday (later curfew) and Sunday (limited home visits).
From 10 May, people visiting shops, gyms, hospitality, or gatherings like the cinema must either be vaccinated (at least one shot), have a negative covid test (within 72 hours) or contracted the virus three months prior.
New Covid-19 cases have stubbornly stayed above 800 in recent days, making the worst week for infections since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The health ministry registered 927 new virus cases on Thursday, taking the total number of recorded infections to 59,792 and 296 deaths.
Cyprus mostly kept a lid on the pandemic by introducing an early lockdown in March 2020 that was gradually eased from early May.
Face masks are mandatory indoors and outdoors, except at home.
Ioannou said the only way to stop the “aggressive transmission” is through greater vaccination coverage.
The government’s target is to inoculate 65 per cent of the 900,000 population with at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine by the end of June.
Until Wednesday, 224,352 vaccinations were administered in Cyprus, of which 18.8 per cent had the first dose of a vaccine, 6.7 per cent both doses.