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COVID19: Masks, tests are back as elderly cases rise

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The mandatory use of face masks and 48-hour tests were introduced in Cyprus on Thursday for staff and visitors at hospitals, nursing homes and dental clinics due to a rise in Covid-19 cases, especially among the elderly.

The decision was taken at Wednesday’s meeting of the scientific advisory committee and rubber-stamped by the Cabinet on Thursday, after hospitalisations of acute coronavirus cases rose to 82, up from 60 ten days ago. No Covid-related deaths have been reported.

Health Minister Popi Kanari said that the increase in infections was due to the JN.1 sub-strain of the Omicron-2 variant in the general population, however not in an epidemiological wave phase.

Earlier, as regards the rapid increase in viruses, as well as the Covid-19 cases among the elderly, especially within care homes, Dr. Kanari had said that many older people are not being vaccinated because they do not have the consent of their relatives.

She added that weekly inspections and tests will resume at care homes and shelters housing vulnerable people, as well as visits by mobile vaccination units, as only 18% of the elderly population has been vaccinated so far.

The new measures include a negative rapid or PCR test, valid for 48 hours (from the previous 72 hours) for any visit to care homes, hospitals, outpatient units, dental clinics and restricted shelters housing vulnerable groups, for anyone aged over 12. Staff, patients and inmates also need to be vaccinated.

The use of masks is also mandatory in these locations, for anyone more than 12 years old.

Positive cases

Anyone who tests positive must wear a mask at all times in all public areas.

The Makarios hospital for children in Nicosia was reported to have reached a bed occupancy rate exceeding 90%, primarily attributed to an influx of respiratory infection cases.

Dr. Avraam Elia, the Director of the hospital’s paediatrics department, said last week that, “this year’s surge in respiratory infections compared to the previous year is noteworthy, with daily admissions ranging from six to eight children”.

The predominant culprit, he said, is the RSV virus, leading to acute bronchiolitis in infants.

Dr. Elia foresees an uptick in cases following the reopening of schools after the Christmas and New Year holidays, a pattern observed annually.

Charalampos Charilaou, the spokesperson for the state health services’ organisation (OKYPY), said that the number of coronavirus patients is higher compared to previous weeks, indicating community transmission.

He said that the hospitalised patients are mainly elderly, over the age of 75, with “quite a few cases coming from nursing homes.”

In relation to other infections, he mentioned that they are within allowed ranges.

“We are in the winter season, people gather in enclosed spaces, possibly without proper ventilation, which is why we have transmission. There is indeed an increased flow of patients with viral and bacterial infections, but it is within expected limits,” he added.

He emphasised that there is an increase in RSV, as expected.

“We have seen some cases of the flu, but in a mild form. The flu is expected to pick up from mid-January to the end of February,” he concluded.