By Nick Theodoulou and Elias Hazou
Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said Thursday that arrangements are being made to repatriate some 500 Cypriot nationals stranded abroad, including via flights chartered by the government if necessary.
The Cypriots could be brought back even beyond Saturday, March 21 – when the ban on all inbound flights comes into force.
Individuals allowed to return must meet the criteria set out earlier in a decree. Namely, they must hold a medical certificate clearing them of coronavirus, or otherwise paperwork from the Cypriot embassy in the country where they are currently located affirming they had travelled overseas for health or for professional reasons.
Karousos said because of the general disruption in air travel, and the difficulty in booking flights, the government would charter planes if need be.
Repatriation will begin for people in the United Kingdom, where most stranded Cypriots currently are.
Those wishing to return, and only provided they have their papers in order, should contact a call centre specially set up for this purpose, by dialling 24 841100.
Operators there have the data on people who have been green-lit by Cypriot embassies abroad. Once callers are verified as being on the list of those allowed back, they will be advised as to how and when to fly to Cyprus.
The call centre started operating from 9pm on Thursday, and will be open until 2am on Friday, and then from 8am to 8pm on Friday.
The minister advised people who might not be assigned a return date when contacting the call centre on Friday, not to worry, thinking that Friday will be the last day before a total ban on flights to Cyprus comes into effect at 3am on Saturday.
This was because repatriation flights would be possible after the March 21 cut-off since the government decree does allow for exceptions for humanitarian reasons.
Regarding Cypriots ‘trapped’ in Greece, Karousos said commercial flights would be taking place on Friday. And if for some reason not, the government would make arrangements to charter flights.
Aegean, for instance, is expected to run a non-scheduled flight to Cyprus on Friday.
On Thursday meanwhile, flights continued to land and leave Paphos and Larnaca airports in a bid to get visitors out and legal residents back home before March 21.
One passenger from Malta was examined at Paphos after displaying Covid-19 related symptoms. The aircraft which arrived at 11:05am had a total of three passengers on board, two of whom had their health certificates, while the third passenger displayed symptoms.
In Larnaca, a flight from Athens landed at the airport on Thursday morning as the 118 passengers, and one baby, had the required certificates.
They were screened at the airport and transferred to government allocated centres for 14 days.
Two other flights, from Cairo and Amsterdam, landed at Larnaca airport.
Three permits to leave the plane were granted to three passengers that arrived from Malta, and to 23 others that arrived from Cairo.
A total of 276 people that received health certificates were repatriated to Cyprus by 4pm on Thursday.
In Paphos, 992 people departed from the island.
The passengers, who were tourists on holiday in Cyprus, departed boarding 10 different flights.
Some of the flights were chartered specially for their departure and the airplanes had arrived in Paphos airport empty.
In total, twelve flights were scheduled to land at Larnaca airport on Thursday, seven carrying passengers and five transporting tourists back to their countries.
By 1pm, 145 people had returned to Cyprus and were transported by bus to places to self-isolate.
When asked about those abroad who do not fall into “priority return” categories and have not been able to obtain the health certificate, Karousos said that: “these are the current orders within the decree as given by the health ministry.”
“There had to be some prioritisation, we are living in challenging times and measures had to be taken to protect public health,” he said. “We know this will not satisfy everyone. Day to day is new information and decisions will change according to the situation.”