COVID19: Wider face mask use back on the table

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Scientists advising the government on handling the coronavirus pandemic are split over whether authorities should reinstate a face mask mandate as cases and hospitalisations have shot up.

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly epidemiological report, 10,879 cases were found, with a positivity rate of 11.62%, with 75 COVID patients in hospital, four in a serious condition.

A face mask mandate was one of the last COVID-19 measures to be lifted on 1 June.

Two days later, the ministry’s epidemiological report recorded 1,814 cases with a positivity rate of 2.76%, with 35 patients in hospital and only one in a more serious condition.

On 28 June, Face masks were reintroduced for visiting pharmacies, clinical labs, and government testing sites for COVID-19.

Face coverings must also be worn when visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and public transport.

Authorities were prompted to reinstate the mask in some areas following a new surge in COVID cases and hospitalisations, attributed to the prevalence of highly infectious Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5.

Following the explosion of cases, half of the government’s advisors want to bring back mask-wearing, although there seems to be little appetite from the Health Ministry.

As just as many scientists advise the government to hold back, for now, maintaining the current measures.

The Health Ministry would only reconsider its decision to suspend the use of masks if all scientists agreed.

Authorities are hesitant about reinstating the face mask amid the peak tourist season, fearing loss of arrivals, especially when neighbouring destinations do not have a mask mandate.

Meanwhile, private hospitals have been asked to provide beds for COVID-19 patients, with the American Medical Centre already setting up a ward with two beds, with plans to add another eight.

The Eden Rehabilitation Centre in Tersefanou, Larnaca, recently given the green light to operate as a hospital, will make 30 beds available to COVID-19 patients.

All coronavirus infection cases since the pandemic started are 515,596 and 1,075 deaths.

The positivity rate spiralled to a new year-high of 11.62% from 9.77% the previous week and 6.5% the week before, nearly twelve times above the safe limit of 1%.

Face masks indoors were imposed against the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in August 2020.