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Russians eye Cyprus as sunny COVID escape

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Facing tougher COVID-19 restrictions, many Russians have decided that now is an ideal time to fly off for a Cyprus beach holiday instead of hunkering down at home.

Workplaces across Russia are closed in the first week of November for paid “non-working days” to slow the relentless spread of the virus.

On Monday, Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported more than 40,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases for the third straight day and more than 1,100 deaths for the seventh consecutive day.

In Moscow, unvaccinated over-60s have been locked down for four months, and shops other than pharmacies and supermarkets are shut until November 7.

An unintended consequence of the tightening curbs – accompanied by appeals to wear masks, observe social distancing, and get vaccinated – has been a spike in foreign travel bookings to destinations where Russia’s flagship Sputnik V is recognised or where COVID entry requirements are cheap and easy.

On both counts, warmer Cyprus fits the bill with no quarantine requirement for vaccinated travellers.

Pre-COVID restrictions, Russia was the island’s second-largest tourist market.

“Don’t quarantine, but holiday on the beach!” travel company Orange Sun Tour proclaims on its website osttour.ru, which offers breaks in Cyprus, Egypt, Cuba, and other destinations.

Travel agent Polina Bondarenko said prices had shot up for trips to all available destinations.

“People are leaving in connection with this lockdown,” she told Reuters, saying about 70% of travellers were vaccinated – well above the national level of just over one third.

Mkhissin Rami, a manager at Orange Sun Tour, said the rush had started right after the partial lockdowns were announced last month.

“No one wanted to stay in Moscow because what can you do here, so demand went up by about five times, for sure.”

For Egypt, the most popular destination, the price of a week-long hotel break for two had surged to about 150,000 roubles ($2,130) compared with just over 100,000 normally; he told Reuters.

When asked to comment on the phenomenon of people escaping lockdown by flying abroad, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said medical professionals had expressed concerns, and there could be epidemiological consequences.

But Peskov said there was no ban on such holidays, none was planned, and that stopping people from moving around freely was an unwelcome measure of last resort.

Holidaymakers interviewed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport saw no apparent irony in their decision to escape the country just when the government urged people to curb their movements.

“If we didn’t take the trip now, we’d be sitting at home,” said Nina, a resident of the Vladimir region east of Moscow, whose previous attempt to holiday in Turkey was thwarted when flights were cancelled last April.

Muscovite Alexandra said she wasn’t frightened of COVID risks because hotels kept on top of the situation.

Russia has confirmed 8,593,200 cases of coronavirus and 240,871 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information centre.

But Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is at least 723,000.

Due to such figures, authorities in Russia have kept in place among the toughest entry rules and travel restrictions to halt the further spread of coronavirus.

Cyprus has reported 124,724 SARS-CoV-2 infections since March 2020 and 574 deaths.