COVID19: Cyprus holds off measures for China travellers

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Cyprus health authorities have decided to delay introducing testing for travellers from China as the country struggles with a new COVID wave.

Following a meeting with health experts advising the government on handling the coronavirus outbreak, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said there was “no reason for concern”, adding that Cyprus will be following the EU’s collective response.

Hadjipantela said the strain detected in China was on the island since August, “so there is no reason for any panic at this particular time”.

“The ministry is in constant communication with the competent authorities and is closely following the recommendations of the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC)”.

Monday’s discussions revolved around whether negative tests should be required from travellers from China or increase random testing at the airports.

The reintroduction of the face mask mandate in airports was also discussed.

No measures were decided at the meeting, despite some EU countries acting as China prepares to lift all COVID restrictions on 8 January, including a travel ban on outgoing traffic.

Starting January 5, all those arriving in France from China must present a negative PCR test result or a rapid antigen test taken less than 48 hours before their flight.

Italy and Spain have also imposed Covid test requirements.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a letter to EU governments on December 29 that they should immediately consider scaling up genomic sequencing of Covid-19 virus infections and monitoring sewage, including at airports, to detect any new variants, given the spate of infections in China.

But the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said last week it does not currently recommend measures for travellers from China.

EU officials are set to meet Wednesday to discuss a joint response to the issue, with incoming EU presidency holder Sweden saying it was “seeking a common policy for the entire EU when it comes to the introduction of possible entry restrictions”.

Hadjipantela will meet scientists again next week following EU decisions and ECDC recommendations.

Don’t panic

In comments to state radio CyBC, Dr Peter Karayiannis, virologist and adviser to the government on COVID, said, “the panic over the new wave of infections in China was over the top”.

Karayiannis added that Cyprus is still covered by vaccine protection, even against the latest variants.

He expects to see infections reach their peak at the end of January,

Karayiannis believes the virus is currently trying to survive by increasing its transmissibility, not morbidity.

“At the moment, we know that it has 20% higher transmissibility, but it is a good strain, so we are not worried about it from a medical point of view.

“Currently, all COVID patients in Cyprus are elderly, many of whom have underlying health conditions”.

According to the acting head of the Health Ministry’s Nursing Services, Evagoras Tampouris, the vaccination coverage for the elderly could be much better.

“In the over 60 age group, the rate of those vaccinated with their fourth or fifth shot is 27.5%. Therefore, it is a very low rate,” said Tampouris.

The overall vaccination rate for the second booster for people over 18 is 8.7%.

Tampouris added that the total traffic at vaccination centres across the island is around 300 to 500 daily.

There are 91 patients in the hospital treated for COVID, four in intensive care.

Most are over 70 and from nursing homes, but the situation is described as “manageable”.