Two weeks after bringing a second lockdown to slow a resurgence of COVID-19, Cyprus’ advisory committee is looking at pulling back on it, if the number of hospitalizations slows.
The head of the panel, Constantinos Tsioutis, told the Cyprus Mail it’s an iffy situation for now as health authorities are closely monitoring the numbers to see if stores can operate again conditionally to prop up a battered economy.
“The most decisive factor and the most decisive indicator for us to transition safely to relaxation is for the situation in the hospitals to improve. What led us to propose tougher measures was the pressure (on the health system) because of the large number of people who needed hospitalisation. Therefore, this will be the precondition for relaxations,” he said.
Tsioutis said the lower number of cases of recent days was due to the tougher measures of December, and not the lockdown as it’s too early to tell the results of getting stricter.
“We are seeing a change that started around January 10- 11 because clearly the December measures have started to bring results,” he said, adding the drop in cases was slow because community spread was very high while the impact on hospitalisations – for which there is a two to three week time lag – will be seen later.
Because of the high number of cases of previous weeks, the number of patients in hospitals remains high, and Cyprus will continue to record deaths on a daily basis, he said, after holding down the pandemic relatively well earlier in 2020.
He said there is worry that pulling back too fast and too much will see cases jump again as people come into contact again, and that health protocols to wear masks and stay safe social distances is essential.
The easing of the lockdown will therefore be careful and slow, particularly in the beginning, and very targeted. “This means that specific areas will start to open, depending on the danger and the risk of transmission”.
“We will not open the riskiest places. Nor should we expect that the highest number of permitted people will suddenly increase dramatically in the first weeks of February, nor that a lot of places will open at the same time, increasing the risk.”
Like other countries, Cyprus is counting on vaccinations to play a key role in bringing the pandemic under control but he said it won’t be fully contained even through the end of 2021 and likely will exist in a milder form in 2022.
“Therefore, if the vaccinations offer protection for one year, we will need to revaccinate,” he said, just like getting flu shots but the unprecedented health crisis means there’s not enough data to make that calculation.
The second lockdown doesn’t include airports and ports bringing in travelers but there are tighter restrictions on movements and closing of battered businesses who had been resisting measures keeping them shut, as well as residents worn out by seeing their movement limited.
Schools were shut again after the government said a nightly curfew and existing measures weren’t working well enough and Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said intensive care units treating patients reached limits and tougher restrictions needed to prevent "people dying helpless because we don't have available beds."
The country's 9 p.m. -5 a.m. curfew was extended to the end of the month, as is a ban on public and private gatherings, again shutting hair and beauty salons, theaters, cinemas, shopping malls, gyms, nightclubs, restaurants and playgrounds.
Churches will be allowed to hold services without worshippers, and only first division soccer teams will be allowed to continue playing with no explanation why that’s not a risk of spreading the Coronavirus.
Civil servants must work from home although it wasn’t said how people could get documents from the state as needed and a maximum of 20 employees are being allowed to work at the premises of private companies. Families will be allowed three-hour excursions to the beach for exercise.
Infections have multiplied much faster in Cyprus in the previous few months, partly because of the new coronavirus variant first identified in Britain, Ioannou said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)