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Protesters Decry Cyprus Crossing Point Closures over Virus

March 2, 2020

NICOSIA – Stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on the island, Cypriot officials slammed shut four of nine crossings to the Turkish-occupied side, drawing fierce protests from people who pulled aside barriers.

Demonstrators chanted and raised placards opposing the closure of the main Ledra Street crossing point in the island’s divided capital, where crossings are allowed just by showing passports for identification.

Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion and still keeps a 35,000-strong army there, one of the major reasons why reunification talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

Five of the crossings remained open along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) length of the United Nations-controlled buffer zone that separates the two sides with the legitimate government acting although there haven’t been any confirmed cases on either side yet.

Justice Minister  George Savvides said he instructed the Chief of Police to investigate reports that protesters attacked a Greek-Cypriot soldier at the crossing point in the capital that is the major entry spot, also patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers.

He said in a written statement that violence against individuals carrying out assigned duties is “completely unacceptable” and that anyone committing such acts should be immediately brought to justice.

Cypriot media broadcast video that allegedly captured the attack on the soldier, revealing a man using his open palm to shove the soldier in the face while trying to get past the police barriers with photos showing other demonstrators also trying to yank down metal barriers.

Protesters said the closings would do nothing to prevent the virus’ spread and said it was a political act but Cyriot President Nicos Anastasiades said “there was no choice” other than to temporarily shut some of the crossing points to better enable police and medical staff to screen for possible carriers of the virus crossing either northward or southward.

“Those who think that they’re causing a political problem for the government aren’t justified,” Anastasiades told reporters. “The government has an obligation to take steps safeguarding the public’s health.”

He noted that there are more than 3,000 students from Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries, and their relatives living on the occupied side with students having come there as a ruse to cross over to the Greek-Cypriot side and seek asylum.

A young woman from Iran, who exhibited symptoms such as fever and coughing on the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island tested negative for the CoVid-19 according to Turkish-Cypriot officials.

Anastasiades said he told Turkish Cypriot-leader Mustafa Akinci the closings were designed to protect both sides. But Akinci said it should have been done at the island’s entry points and not in the middle of the divided capital.

Anastasiades said he told Akinci that the movement of people is unavoidable and that the Turkish-Cypriot leader didn’t dispute that.

Fears over the coronavirus have led Cypriot authorities to quarantine more women who traveled to Italy, where it has spread and become deadly, in a bid to make sure it doesn’t happen on the island.

The quarantine is a precautionary measure, health officials said, to check potentially high-risk cases, especially from areas in tourist-popular northern Italy, which includes sites such as Venice, with visitors emptying out and returning home fast.

The women being held on Cyprus had been in contact with confirmed cases, said Kathimerini Cyprus in a report, after Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou tweeted that three people who traveled to Italy were quarantined. The three women, who tested negative for the coronavirus, would remain isolated for 14 day, following strict protocols, the minister added.

Reports said a woman in Paphos, who attended a conference in Italy, notified authorities after finding she had been close to at least one confirmed case. She was then admitted into Limassol General Hospital in a special isolated room.

Besides high risk cases, a group of Erasmus students also returned to the island abruptly, after their host university was shut down. The group’s chaperone told reporters saying the teens did not want to come back because there was more panic in Cyprus than Milan.

None of the high school students exhibited any symptoms but their parents had been advised to take precautions, including self-quarantine for 14 days, the paper reported.

Health officials quarantined another woman as a coronavirus high-risk case, after a private jet landed in Larnaca with reports saying a crew member had come into contact with Israel’s first confirmed case.

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