NICOSIA — A steady decrease in new coronavirus infections three weeks into Cyprus' nationwide lockdown is allowing for the start of the gradual, targeted lifting of closures and restrictions, the country's health minister said Wednesday.
Constantinos Ioannou said that the first places to reopen as of Feb. 1 will be hair and beauty salons followed a week later by retail stores, shopping malls and elementary schools. Students in their final year of high school will also go back to classes on Feb. 8, while places of worship will again permit a maximum attendance of 50 faithful. The number of people allowed to visit family at home is capped at four people as of Feb. 8
Ioannou said twice-a-day excursions requiring text message approval remain in effect for now because authorities want to avoid "hasty, high-risk actions" that would undermine efforts for a speedy return to normality.
To ensure workplace safety, reopened businesses will be obligated to conduct rapid coronavirus tests to at least 20% of their staff. Ioannou said Cyprus is second among all European Union member states in the number of rapid and PCR testing relative to its population.
The health minister said despite a delay in vaccine procurement, authorities are upbeat about making up lost ground because authorities have ordered "many more" vaccine doses than the country's 900,000-strong population.
He noted a higher-than expected number of people wishing to be vaccinated and projected that 100,000 people will be vaccinated by the end of March including those over 80 and front-line health care workers.
More testing will be carried out on confirmed infections to determine the spread of the new coronavirus variant within the community, Ioannou said.
Cyprus on Tuesday announced 109 new COVID-19 cases from nearly 11,000 tests, a far cry from 907 cases it reported a month ago. There have been 190 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.