Cyprus Minister of Health Michalis Hadjipantelas makes statements to the Press on the decisions of the Council of Ministers regarding the new measures for COVID-19. (Photo PIO)

COVID19: Bracing for stricter measures

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Cyprus is bracing for stricter measures to control the spread of Covid-19 that hit two successive records in two days, with the cabinet holding an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon to consider a tightening of testing protocols and restrictions on New Year celebrations.

Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas will be meeting the government’s scientific advisors at 4 pm for a final review of measures needed to stem the spread of the coronavirus as cases spiralled out of control, hitting an all-time high of 2,241 on Tuesday.

Health authorities are concerned that the Omicron variant seems to be pushing cases through the roof, as they leaped from 912 on Sunday to 1,925 on Monday and 2,241 on Tuesday.

International findings have Omicron doubling COVID-19 cases every two to three days.

Following the meeting with epidemiologists, Hadjipantelas will brief an extraordinary cabinet meeting to agree on new measures that will be imposed immediately.

News reports suggest the new measures will have a greater impact on high-risk areas and activities, such as nightclubs and various social events, as well as home celebrations.

Scientists will be recommending that a ban on the unvaccinated remains in place, while tightening testing protocols for the vaccinated, regardless of their vaccination status.

People entering high-risk venues will be required to carry a negative 24-hour test regardless of whether they have received both doses of the vaccine or even a booster.


Limit at homes

Scientists will also be looking to limit the number of people allowed to gather at homes during New Year’s celebrations, lowering the current limit of 20 to ten.

At present, scientists are not contemplating delaying the reopening of schools following the two-week Christmas and New Year’s break. As things stand, schools will reopen on Monday, January 10.

A new lockdown was reportedly off the table, as the government has made it clear that it does not wish to shut down the economy with a fourth lockdown in the two years of the pandemic.

However, businesses are expected to be impacted, as authorities appear determined to raise the percentage of employees sent to work from home. Currently, 20% of the workforce must work from home.

Test mandates for people at offices will also be tightened.

At present, unvaccinated people have to show a negative PCR or rapid test not older than 48 hours, and double jabbed employees need to get tested once a week. People with a booster shot are excluded from testing.

Sports events are also to be affected with scientists contemplating lowering the ceiling of 75% capacity for only vaccinated people to a mere 10%.


Plan B if matters get worse

Reports suggest the health ministry has a plan B which includes further tightening of measures if the first set does not pay off. However, no information has been made available.

Health authorities are concerned over the growing number of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalisation.

The State Health Services Organisation (OKYPY) has reported that one in two patients in state hospitals is in need of intensive care.

OKYPY has said that the situation in the hospitals is still manageable, however, according to the organisation’s data, there is a steady influx of patients (15-18 per 24 hours) with a simultaneous increase in serious cases in intensive care units (ICU) and acute care units (ACU).

OKYPY spokesman Charalambos Charilaou said, “one in two patients are hospitalised in a serious or critical condition”.


Health system overstretched

He said that in addition to patients with coronavirus, there is an increase in patients with other health problems, which has stretched the health system to its limits.

Scientists are also concerned over the increase of the positivity rate, which has far exceeded the safety level of 1%.

On Christmas Day, only 16,231 tests were performed with  268 cases detected, meaning that the positivity rate was 1.65%.

On Boxing Day (Sunday) some 53,715 tests were carried out, identifying 912 new cases of coronavirus. The positivity rate was 1.7%.

On Monday, with 121,127 tests, 1,925 cases were identified, and the positivity rate was 1.59%.

On Tuesday, however, the positivity hit a record-high of 2.29% as some 2,241 cases were identified out of 98,047.

So far, Cyprus has reported 154,926 COVID-19 cases and 630 deaths.