COVID19: Cyprus reinforces face mask rule indoors

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Wearing a face mask in indoor public spaces for everyone over 12 will become mandatory again from Friday after a spike in COVID-19 infections, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela announced.

The decision came following Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, with the minister declaring the U-turn only weeks after masks were dropped.

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

Hadjipantela cited an increase in COVID-19 hospital cases, arguing that infected people circulating freely without wearing a mask is a contributory factor.

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

Last month, the ministry recorded 1,814 cases with a positivity rate of 2.76%, with 35 patients in hospital and only one in a 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.

Many scientists prompted authorities to reinstate the mask following a new surge in COVID cases and hospitalisations, attributed to the prevalence of highly infectious Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5.

Authorities were 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.

Hadjipantela had said earlier in the week that the mask would only return if all scientists were on board.

The minister said that more details on where masks would be mandatory were to follow.

Coronavirus infection cases since the pandemic started in March 2020 are 515,596 and 1,075 deaths.

The positivity rate has spiralled to a new year-high of 11.62% from 9.77% the previous week and 6.5% the week before, nearly 12 times above the safe limit of 1%.

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