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COVID19: Face masks back at airports after cases soar

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Cyprus is reintroducing a mask mandate for airports and hospitality, as cases have shot up to almost 20,000 in the past 10 days with an infection rate of 13%.

From Friday, all travellers over 12 at Cyprus airports must wear a face covering, as will people visiting hospitality venues.

The decision was taken at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, with Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela telling reporters he believes the public will abide by the measures because “if we wish to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we have no choice but to do so to wear our masks”.

The ministry released data which showed that from 25 June to 5 July, some 19,503 positive cases were recorded from 147,623 tests (positivity rate: 13%). There were also 92 hospital cases.

A ministry source confirmed to the Financial Mirror that 3,000 new cases were recorded on Monday alone, “out of a smaller than the usual number of tests”.

Exceptions to the mandate are households, people actively eating or drinking, those driving alone or in a vehicle with other members of the same household, exercising (sports), chefs (only during the cooking process), and those with health conditions.

The fine for violating the mask mandate is €300.

Hadjipantela said the proposal was urgently brought before the cabinet as authorities found that people who tested positive were circulating in closed areas without a mask.

“There has been a lot of retransmissions of the virus in the last few days, and we are trying to stop this but at the same time not deprive the people of any freedom,” Hadjipantela said.

A face mask mandate was one of the last COVID-19 measures to be lifted on 1 June, only for authorities to make the U-turn a month later.

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 wanted 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.

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

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