The Council of ministers met for four hours on Tuesday to decide measures for protecting the population from the spread of the coronavirus after two confirmed cases were reported. The overriding impression was that the cabinet wanted to be seen to be decisive and in control of the situation but the measures announced did not support this narrative.
If anything, they caused panic among people who rushed to supermarkets to stock up on supplies, emptying shelves and violating one of the measures announced by the government – the ban of gatherings of more than 75 people in closed spaces. There were more than 75 people at any one time in the major supermarkets on Tuesday, as they filled their trolleys with food items to see them through the next couple of months.
The closing of the island’s biggest state hospital for 48 hours did not inspire confidence either. Nicosia General was closed Tuesday because one of the confirmed cases was a doctor who had been to work there while carrying the virus. Limassol hospital has also cut down on certain operations for 48 hours.
It does not indicate that the authorities are in control of the situation when the two biggest hospitals, which were supposedly prepared to deal with the outbreak of the virus, are partly or wholly out of operation for 48 hours immediately after the first confirmed cases. Even stranger was the decision to close all private and state schools as well as universities of Nicosia for three days, so that all tests regarding the confirmed cases are completed. This seemed like another knee-jerk reaction designed to spread alarm.
But nothing illustrated the randomness of the government measures better than the decision to place the UK and Greece in the Category 2 list of countries, imposing obligatory self-isolation for 14 days on visitors from these countries. The immediate reaction by the Hoteliers’ Association forced the government to change its decision and place the UK and Greece in Category 3 that meant visitors would have to restrict their movements to the absolutely necessary and monitor their health. How the authorities would police the visitors in Categories 2 or 3 we were not told.
More absurd was that UK and Greece were initially placed in Category 2 even though they had fewer confirmed cases per million population (5.5 and 8.5 respectively) than Category 3 countries such as Belgium (23), Sweden (34.8) and Switzerland (57.4). Because one confirmed case had been to the UK, it was decided that visitors from the UK were a bigger threat than those from countries with a higher incidence of the virus.
It is the same randomness that led to the closure of four crossing points while another five remained open. It is just not good enough and the government should start behaving in a more rational and measured way if it does not want to generate uncontrollable alarm among people.