COVID19: Tighter restrictions not ruled out

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Cyprus may have avoided a fourth lockdown as the government tightened COVID-19 rules, but stricter measures may soon be imposed as Omicron fuels record infections.

New Year’s Eve celebrations will be muted after the government banned dancing and ordered bar, restaurant, reception hall and nightclub patrons to remain seated amid three consecutive record daily cases.

Anyone who hasn’t received a booster shot is required to have a negative rapid test 24 hours before attending any function.

In comments to state TV CyBC on Thursday, government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said the administration would review epidemiological data next week and take stricter measures if deemed necessary.

The government appears to be holding back from imposing a lockdown, fearing the impact on the economy and a possible public backlash.

“Our aim is to protect public health and keep the economy going,” said Pelekanos.

He noted that hospitals had not seen a similar spike in admissions despite a surge in cases.

“However, the capacity of the health system is not without its limits.”

The head scientist advising the government on coronavirus, Dr Constantinos Tsioutis, confirmed that experts would revaluate the situation next week, proposing stricter measures if needed.

Tsioutis told CyBC that a lockdown is the last resort in the fight to contain COVID-19 cases.

He urged people to abide by health measures, noting that one in fifty tested is found positive for the virus.

The epidemiologist said that many clusters are linked to nightclubs and involve mainly younger individuals who are asymptomatic.

Scientists believe that 60% of cases found are attributed to the Omicron variant from the data available.

“However, the majority of hospitalisations are attributable to the Delta variant.”

Hospitals are under great strain, with 174 COVID-19 patients being treated, of which 84, almost one in two, are in a more serious condition.

Cyprus on Wednesday introduced new measures to restrict a record spike in cases at an unprecedented 3,002.

Measures include further controls at airports, a higher rate of people working remotely, banning unvaccinated from venues, and wearing masks at all public areas, indoor or outdoor.

Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said: “The Omicron variant is firmly in the community and is expected to further burden our epidemiological situation”.

On Wednesday, the positivity rate exceeded 2.5%, with 7,168 positive cases recorded in the last three days.

Five more deaths were reported on Wednesday, taking total cases to 157,928 and 635 deaths.

The new measures are:

  • From January 4 to 15, all passengers must secure a PCR test 48 hours before departure and submit to a new PCR upon arrival, at their own expense (€15).
  • From January 3, work-from-home increases from 20% to 40%. Some essential services will be exempt.
  • Access to entertainment venues, clubs, receptions for weddings, and christenings allowed only to vaccinated people with a 24-hour rapid test. Those with the booster jab are exempt.
  • A ceiling of 300 people at restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Guests must be seated, and dancing is prohibited.
  • Fan attendance at sports venues is reduced to 50% capacity, and masks are mandatory.
  • Visits are banned at all state and private hospitals and confined institutions. Patients and their companions visiting out-patient clinics need a 24-hour rapid test. Those with booster jabs are exempt.
  • PCR testing is required for health sector professionals who haven’t been fully vaccinated.