NICOSIA — Cyprus on Friday made mask-wearing compulsory in all indoor areas where people gather in large numbers, like malls and supermarkets, and is significantly ramping up random coronavirus testing at its two main airports. An upsurge of new confirmed cases in the last week has alarmed authorities.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that a rollback of COVID-19 restrictions combined with a low infection rate led to "excessive complacency" by some people, whom he blamed for "choosing to recklessly violate health protocols" and "put public health at risk."
He said the latest spike is "exceedingly worrying" because people infected with the virus who don't show any symptoms are spreading the disease in a way that is making containment efforts difficult.
Ioannou said it's a "utopia" to believe COVID-19 can be completely eradicated and that the best outcome is to keep infections at a low, controllable level until a vaccine is developed.
Starting midnight Friday, anyone not wearing a mask in busy places like hospitals, banks and churches faces a fine of 300 euros ($366). Random testing at airports will increase from 600 to 1,000 a day, with emphasis on Cypriots returning from vacation.
The maximum number of passengers on public transport is again being cut to half of the vehicle's capacity and police will enact a "zero tolerance" policy on businesses that don't conform to hygiene and social distancing rules.
Ioannou announced additional measures affecting the coastal town of Limassol, where most of the new infections have been registered. The measures, to last for three weeks, include the return of a 10-person limit at all social functions and a 75-person limit for indoor seating at bars and restaurants. That limit is double for outdoor seating.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades warned in a written statement that flouting these new restrictions would lead to even stricter measures that would have grave economic repercussions.
Divided Cyprus, with a population of around 870,000 people in the southern, internationally recognized part has registered 1,084 COVID-19 infections and 26 deaths.