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WHO: Cyprus ‘brutally’ lifted Covid restrictions

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Cyprus is among the countries warned by the World Health Organisation for lifting coronavirus restrictions too “brutally”, facilitating the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron 2 subvariant of COVID-19.

Speaking at a conference in Moldova on Tuesday, WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge told participants to be “optimistic, but vigilant” about the pandemic’s development in Europe, adding that cases were on the rise in 18 out of 53 states in the region.

“The countries where we see a particular increase are the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, France, Italy and Germany,” Kluge was quoted by Al Jazeera news agency. “Those countries are lifting the restrictions brutally from too much to too few,” he added.

However, meeting Cypriot Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela on the sidelines of a conference in Turkey on Monday, Kluge praised Cyprus’ high vaccination uptake and spoke of cooperating on evaluating early implementation of the general health scheme (GHS), behavioural insights, digital and mental health and migrant health.

At the Moldova conference, Kluge noted that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Europe fell sharply after a peak at the end of January but has been on the rise again since early March. He said that more 1 million new cases and 12,496 deaths have been reported in the WHO’s European region.

In France, infections have risen by more than a third in the week since the government ended most COVID restrictions last Monday.

In Germany, despite a new daily record of nearly 300,000 infections last Friday, the government let national legislation enabling coronavirus restrictions expire over the weekend.

In Italy, the government announced on Thursday it would phase out almost all restrictions by May 1, despite rising cases. And in the U.K., where one in 20 people are currently infected, the government removed the last of its international travel restrictions on Friday.

Stubbornly high in Cyprus

In Cyprus, daily cases have been stubbornly hovering around 4,000-5,000 in recent days, with authorities reporting three coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, as new cases tapered off to 4,673 with the positivity rate shooting up to 4.92%.

Some 151 patients were in a COVID-19 ward at state hospitals, of whom 26 were in a more serious condition. Another 22 post-COVID patients were being treated, intubated in ICUs.

On Monday, cases had spiralled to a near-record 5,286, prompting the authorities to hold back on lifting more pandemic measures, in the light of a new surge in cases and hospitalisations.

Relaxations would have included the withdrawal of a mask mandate in public areas.

Two weeks ago, authorities scrapped Safe Pass checks at supermarkets and other shopping venues, and relaxed restrictions at bars, restaurants, hotels, gyms and sports stadiums.

Local epidemiologists noted that rising cases were partly due to the spread of the highly contagious BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant which has become dominant in many countries. So far, it does not appear to be more severe compared to other strains.