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Cyprus prepares to fight on beaches

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Cyprus’ worsening epidemiological picture is deterring tour operators, while countries are placing the holiday island “off-limits”.

A looming two-week lockdown lasting until 9 May, has done little to improve its image abroad.

Earlier this week, it emerged that 100,000 seats from Russia were lost overnight due to Cyprus’ bad COVID-19 performance, even before the summer season kicks off.

Local tour operators confirmed to the Financial Mirror they were informed by sources in Russia, the island’s second-largest tourist source, that chartered flights to Cyprus will be grounded until 1 June.

Aviation industry sources also confirmed that Russian air carriers, including Russia’s Aeroflot, the country’s largest airline, put a moratorium on flights to Cyprus that Nicosia is trying to lift.

“Cyprus was banking on a (Russia) flight ban to Turkey due to its bad epidemiological picture, but we have followed suit, pushing the tourism sector further into a corner,” said Charis Papacharalambous, Association of Cyprus Travel Agents (ACTA) spokesperson.

“As an association, we are disappointed with the development as we warned authorities the situation was getting out of hand.

“With more than 800 cases a day, it was only to be expected we would have cancellations en masse.”

He said taking measures to stop the pandemic appears to be a one-way route, as just relying on mass testing is not working.

“Although a great strategy, mass testing is simply not paying off in Cyprus as people are not isolating and not revealing their close contacts.”

According to available data, since reopening to tourists on 1 April, Cyprus airports welcomed 6,500 Russian arrivals.

Papacharalambous argued Cyprus’ worsening situation not only affects Russia because tour operators will be looking at other safer destinations to take their clientele.

“It is still unclear what will happen with the UK.

“The UK government has told Britons that they will not be allowed to travel until the end of May.

“However, with its current epidemiological data, Cyprus will at best be categorized in the amber category, which means that Britons would have to quarantine.”

Cyprus, along with nearly all of Europe, is expected to be included in the UK’s “amber list”, meaning that Britons who travelled to the island will have to go into self-isolation for ten days upon their return home.

Increasing pressure on Cyprus, Malta has been put on the UK’s green list, while

Meanwhile, health authorities in the United States issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for Cyprus earlier this week, advising US citizens against visiting the island due to high levels of COVID-19.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Cyprus, essentially advising against travel.

Level 2 calls on US citizens to exercise increased caution, while level 3 asks travellers to reconsider travel.

Cyprus’ new level 4 designation meant the risk was at its highest for US citizens “due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks.”

Cyprus responds

Wanting to address the issue, three government ministers set the record straight and explained why travellers should pick the Mediterranean island.

In a letter sent to international partners, Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos, and Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios attempted to ‘clear the air’ of doubts about Cyprus being a safe and accessible destination for tourists.

They argued that Cyprus’ vaccination and testing rates are among the best in Europe while adding the positivity rate is much lower than other nations as it typically stands at around 1%.

A Ministry of Tourism source told the Financial Mirror that “most countries in the EU report a positivity rate ranging from 3-15%.

Italy’s rate is close to 7%, Portugal 8.5% and Croatia was at 18.1%.

But comparing such data between countries can be sketchy and unfair on Cyprus due to wide variation in testing policies.

The source said Cyprus has a very high testing rate, ranking among the top countries in the world.

“For example, Greece with a population of close to 11 million carried out about 7.5 million tests, the Republic of Cyprus, with a population of 900,000, has performed about 4.6 million tests.”

It means that proportionally Cyprus will identify a far higher number of positive cases than other countries.

The three ministers also argued that Cyprus has managed one of the fastest vaccination drives in the EU and aspires to vaccinate 60% of its population by the end of June.

UK’s Jet2 has announced the start of its flights from 27 June, while TUI and easyJet are currently planning flights from 17 May.

Regarding tourists from Israel, things are better as most of its population has been vaccinated.

However, according to aviation sources, for May, only 18,000 Israeli tourists are expected to walk through Cyprus airports, which does not save the situation.

There are no restrictions on vaccinated Israeli or UK visitors entering Cyprus.