COVID19: Divided Cyprus opens up for first time since pandemic

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People movement across the divided island resumed for the first time since crossing points were shuttered during the Covid-19 pandemic 15 months ago, the United Nations said Friday.

Without fanfare, most crossings opened at 0600 local time on Friday, while the iconic Ledra Street checkpoint in the capital Nicosia started operating at 0800.

After intense consultations over several weeks between the two sides and the UN to facilitate free movement again, the breakthrough was achieved.

“Greek Cypriot leader, Mr Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Ersin Tatar, confirmed agreement on synchronising the two sides’ respective COVID-19 measures concerning crossings and on reopening all crossing points from 4 June, onwards,” a UN statement said earlier this week.

The move was also welcomed by France and the United States when announced on Wednesday.

“Great to see today’s announcement that the crossings will reopen on Friday! Allowing Cypriots to meet, trade, and move freely benefits all who call this island home,” tweeted US ambassador Judith Garber.

A bi-communal technical committee on health will assess the Covid situation on both sides of the UN-patrolled ceasefire line on a bi-weekly basis to determine the appropriate risk with a colour-coded scheme.

Green will mean no restrictions; Orange, a 7-day negative Antigen or PCR test, is required with dark red signalling the crossings are closed to the general public.

When crossings opened on Friday, the orange category applied, meaning a negative Covid test is needed to cross.

“The measures will apply to all categories of people, bringing the situation at the crossing points back to the status quo ante, pre-COVID 19 outbreak, including for third country nationals,” the UN peacekeeping mission said.

It said the reopening of all crossing points would “facilitate free movement, promote people to people contacts, build trust and have an overall positive socio-economic impact across the island.”

There have been calls for the crossings to open after a surge in coronavirus cases eased on both sides.

All crossings were closed at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020; some stayed shut, like the Ledra Street crossing.

Some restrictions were gradually lifted for certain groups at designated checkpoints, such as Turkish Cypriot students attending school in the Cyprus government-controlled south.

Under normal conditions, thousands cross the ceasefire line daily to work, study or seek medical treatment.

The Republic of Cyprus shut four of the nine crossings between the two sides in late February 2020 for the first time since they opened in 2003.

The remaining crossings were closed after the north reported its first case of coronavirus on 10 March 2020.

The Republic of Cyprus has reported 72,626 Covid cases and 362 deaths since the pandemic last year.

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot authorities have confirmed 7,375 cases and 33 deaths.