NICOSIA — Hoping they will come in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that isn't over yet, Cyprus opened airports to tourists after a near three-month lockdown credited with holding down the number of cases and fatalities.
Cyprus' economy depends on tourism and there were fears the bottom could fall out because of the virus and with international air traffic no where near levels before the pandemic hit and uncertainty whether people will risk coming.
Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos welcomed 22 arrivals from Israel at Larnaca Airport, saying Cyprus was in effect free of the virus. “I miss Cyprus, Cyprus is a brother of Israel, it’s very nice, very quiet,” Israeli visitor Joseph Amkri, 50, told the news agency Reuters in a feature on the return.
Deputy Tourim Minister Savvas Perdios said, “Our target is to reach 30% of where we were last year,” indicating a likely 70 percent drop that could still cut deep into the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and bring an economic aftershock.
It wasn't an auspicious start with the island's fabled beaches, some rated the best in Europe, empty and as hotels and other tourist industries are required to put in place severe measures to prevent a resurgence.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the beach this empty,” lifeguard Xenios Charalambous said of Ayia Napa’s Nissi Beach. “We’re trying to pull through and hope more people come now that the airports are open. We’ll be here waiting for them,” he said.
Perdios said health protocols had been tightened and authorities would cover the medical costs of any visitor who tested positive for the virus. “This is really important to us. To show people this is a safe destination, with a dependable health system,” he said.
The first arrivals will be limited to travelers who were free of the virus before departures from their countries, including Germany, Israel and Greece. The requirement will be dropped for that group on June 20.
Cyprus said its scheme is based on epidemiological data which has barred visitors until mid-July from the key markets of Russia and especially from those in the United Kingdom, the island's former Colonial ruler, with many British expatriates now permanent residents.