COVID19: Lockdown visible on post-Christmas horizon

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Scientists advising the government on the coronavirus are sounding the alarm over rising COVID-19 cases, warning of a new lockdown after Christmas if restrictions are not strictly observed.

With Christmas fast approaching and people gathering at homes, scientists fear that Omicron, a transmissible variant, will find fertile ground to spread like wildfire.

In comments to news website Stockwatch, Maria Koliou, an epidemiologist advising authorities, expressed strong concern as the experience in other EU countries has shown that Omicron could only be stemmed with lockdowns.

Koliou warned the island’s COVID situation is stretched.

She urged the public to refrain from mass gatherings and joining meetings with people they do not know.

Commenting on the possibility of a new lockdown following the Christmas holidays, Koliou said that a lockdown was not on the agenda at recent meetings with Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas, but it could be on the table if the situation worsens.

“At least citizens will have the opportunity to spend Christmas and New Year under more humane conditions compared to the previous year and will more easily accept a lockdown or tougher measures”.

Koliou advised people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get a booster shot as “for the moment we do not have any other tools to fight the new variant”.

She said the introduction of tougher health measures announced Tuesday by the Minister of Health had the consent of epidemiologists.

Dr Peter Karayiannis, virologist and government advisor, said: “At the moment, stricter measures could not be introduced because people unable to celebrate Christmas for a second year would have protested”.

“We know the Omicron variant is already here, so we expect the pandemic to erupt after the Christmas holidays and we recommend paying attention to gatherings at home but also gatherings with strangers,” said Karayiannis.

According to Karayiannis, the only thing that scientists know about the Omicron variant is that it is transmitted more easily, but there is still no clear picture of whether it causes milder disease than the Delta variant.

“It would appear that two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine are not enough to keep people from being infected with the Omicron variant, especially if they were given a few months ago, so the only weapon we have at the moment is the booster shot.”

Health authorities have reported more than 800 new daily cases for two days running.

Cyprus has reported 146,802 COVID-19 cases and 623 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.