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COVID-19 Lockdown Off, Cyprus Opens to Some Tourists Again

LARNACA – It was a welcome, if cautious, relief for Cyprus when the international airport closed as part of a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus welcomed its first tourists on June 9 after nearly three months.

The first flights came from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria, said Agence France-Presse and The Times of Israel, after Cyprus tried to reassure visitors with post-lockdown hygiene protocols for hotels and other tourist sector facilities.

Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination after an early lockdown held down the number of cases and fatalities and had closed the airport on March 21.

“After two and a half months, the connectivity of our island with 19 other countries returns. Cypriot airports open with optimism with the first flight arriving at Larnaca from Israel,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos tweeted. 

The airport’s operator Hermes said five arrivals and five departures were scheduled from Larnaca while Paphos airport in the west of the island will welcome its first flights June 21.

Karousos was at Larnaca to welcome the first visitors, media reports said, as the government hopes to salvage what's left of the summer season with tourism the major revenue engine needed to restart an economy that ground to a lockdown halt.

But not all are welcome yet. 

Cyprus is initially opening its airports to a select band of 19 countries that are considered low risk, also including Germany, Austria and Malta, but the island’s two biggest markets, Britain and Russia, are not on the approved list, nor are Sweden, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, all hard-hit by COVID-19.

All those arriving between June 9 and June 19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they don't have the virus, the news reports said, while from June 20, there will be no need to provide a health certificate from 13 of the 19 countries and another six countries will be added to the list including Switzerland, Romania and Poland.

Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific data.

There will also be temperature checks and random testing of travelers, free of charge, when they arrive on the island and a government incentive said any who come down with the virus will have all their medical costs covered.

Despite the reopening, there are worries that tourism, which normally brings as many as four million people, will fall off 70 percent this year. In 2019, tourism brought in 2.68 billion euros ($3.02 billion) down 1 percent from the previous record year, the sector generating about 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 22.17 billion euros ($24.96 billion.)

This is the time of the year when the island's fabled beaches and seaside resorts are packed with people. 

Cyprus came out top in a survey of European beaches published by the European Environment Agency with 99.1 percent of beaches receiving ratings as having excellent water quality.

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