COVID19: More measures to save Christmas

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Emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, coupled with the island’s new spike of infections, has authorities ready to introduce PCR testing for all Cyprus arrivals.

Cyprus introduced tighter measures to clamp down another COVID-19 outbreak ahead of the festive season when social gatherings are at their peak.

The emergence of the Omicron variant, the next threat since Delta, has scientists advising the government back on a new set of suggestions to be tabled before the cabinet on Wednesday.

Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas will suggest that all arrivals in Cyprus undergo PCR testing while also sending employees in the public and private sector to work from home.

Hadjipantelas will also propose that Christmas events are carried out only outdoors and provided that all participants, regardless of vaccination history, carry a negative rapid test no older than 48 hours.

Tightening of controls at all crossings points is also to be expected.

Reportedly, closing the crossings is not on the table. Still, the minister will be suggesting that people wanting to cross from or to the north will need to carry a negative PCR test regardless of their vaccination status.

Currently, with the COVID risk level set to dark red, fully vaccinated people with EMA approved vaccines, or the Sinovac, Sinopharm or Sputnik vaccines, can cross with a 7-day negative rapid test or PCR test 14 days after their full vaccination.

A 72-hour negative rapid or PCR test is required for the unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, beds for COVID-19 patients at state hospitals are to be increased by 50%. Already, the State Health Services Organisation (OKYPY) has frozen all non-urgent surgeries.

A decision will take into consideration the already worsening epidemiological data, the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Scientists recommend that people stay calm regarding the Omicron variant, pointing out that it is too early to draw safe conclusions.

They agreed, however, with the need to take additional measures at ports of entry to prevent or even delay as much as possible the spread of the new strain.

Asked if the new mutation is more contagious but with milder symptoms, lead government COVID-19 advisor Dr Constantinos Tsioutis said: “We are already facing a very potent variant, the Delta variant. We need to boost vaccination rates and keep to social distancing and personal protection measures”.

The Health Minister said government advisors will be monitoring the epidemiological data, and if necessary, he will be consulting them once more before the week is over.

Cyprus on Monday enforced stricter COVID-19 restrictions, as children over six now need to wear a face mask in school and present a Safe Pass for extracurricular activities and venues they visit.

Christmas events at schools have been banned, while those planned by venues or businesses need special permission.

Authorities have also turned the screw on unvaccinated. From 15 December, only people over 12 who have received at least one dose will be able to enter indoor and outdoor venues such as stadiums, restaurants, and nightclubs, regardless of being tested.

People needing a booster jab have until 18 December to get one, or their Safe Pass will be invalid.