Cyprus has tightened COVID-19 rules for the Christmas holidays, including testing for employees and shortening the Safe Pass validity for those contracting the virus.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced more measures amid concern over Omicron, pushing daily cases and hospitalisations to new highs.
The new rules include testing for all employees in the public and private sector with the exemption of those who have received a booster shot.
Until recently, only unvaccinated employees needed to present a negative rapid test every 48 hours.
Employees with two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine will now have to get tested every week.
The validity of Safe Pass documents held by people who contracted the virus will be shortened from six to three months from 31 January.
Also, students will be returning to school after their Christmas break on 10 January instead of 7 January.
All students returning will need to carry a negative rapid test not older than 48 hours.
The cabinet also approved obliging unvaccinated people aged 12 to 17 years to carry a negative rapid test no older than 48 hours to enter a hospitality or sports venue.
They must also be accompanied by a guardian who is vaccinated. This measure will be in place until 6 January.
Hadjipantelas encouraged people to get tested (48-hour duration) before attending Christmas and New Year social gatherings and celebrations.
Restriction on home visits remains at 20 people maximum.
Vaccinated people can make use of their free self-test kits provided at pharmacies.
Self-test kits are available for those who have completed their initial vaccination scheme.
Vaccinated people registered with the General Health System can pick up a set of five free self-tests at pharmacies.
Those who have completed their vaccination programme in Cyprus and are not beneficiaries of the GHS will receive self-tests from designated points in each district.
Positive coronavirus cases will need to report the result to their GP, who will refer them to a state testing facility for a PCR test.
The new measures come into effect Wednesday until at least 15 January along with previously announced measures.
The tightening of measures is health authorities’ response to the arrival of Omicron and rising cases.
It follows restrictions on the unvaccinated and people who have not yet had a booster shot seven months after completing their initial vaccination scheme.
The unvaccinated are banned from entering hospitality and sports venues, while people who should have had a booster shot will also need to carry a negative PCR or rapid test.
The minister said Cyprus had done its best not to follow other countries and reimpose a lockdown.
“We did our best to keep the economy going and allow all of us to spend Christmas with our loved ones,” said Hadjipantelas.
He said there had been a steady increase in daily cases recently, reflected in hospitalisations, and therefore complacency is not an option.
“The appearance of positive cases of the Omicron variant in our country may burden the epidemiological picture, as has happened in other countries”.
Hadjipantelas noted that an uptick in vaccinations is encouraging.
“Vaccination is a key parameter in dealing with and managing the pandemic. As a result, all age groups have recorded an increase in their vaccination rate.”
In the last 10 days, 8,390 people received their first dose of a vaccine, 11,813 had their second shot, and 71,111 got a booster shot.
Cyprus on Monday reported 835 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths.
Health authorities have reported 145,996 COVID-19 cases and 623 deaths since the pandemic in March 2020.