Invoking the Quarantine Law, the state on Tuesday put into place an effective curfew until April 13 in a bid to limit unnecessary outdoor movements to halt further contagion of Covid-19.
In doing so, Cyprus joined a long list of countries enforcing draconian lockdown measures, likened by some abroad to police-state tactics or medical-martial law.
Starting from 6pm on Tuesday, and until April 13 (inclusive) anyone going outdoors must carry with them a filled-out printed form explaining the reason, or alternatively send an SMS to authorities.
“These measures are being implemented not for the sake of punishing people… but to break the chain of coronavirus,” Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Tuesday, hours before the lockdown came into force.
He said the measures were necessary “as we live in unprecedented times.”
President Nicos Anastasiades warned on Tuesday night that failure to fully comply with the measures in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus would mean a curfew with no exceptions.
“Today we have lost two more fellow humans as a result of the pandemic,” he tweeted. “We must all realise that if there is no full compliance with the measures, the consequences for everyone would be asymmetric. To win this war you must stay home, in the shelters.”
In a separate tweet, the president warned non-compliance would mean a total ban on circulation.
“Because there is an effort underway to misinterpret the explanations” given by ministers, “I want to make it clear: If there is abuse or disobedience to the new measures the next step would be a ban on circulation without exceptions.”
There are two types of forms: the first is an authorisation from one’s employer, to be filled out and signed by the employer; self-employed persons must fill out and sign the form themselves.
For the second form, for non-work reasons, each individual must fill it out and sign it to request exemption from the restrictions for day-to-day movements.
This second form currently lists eight different reasons for going out: visiting a pharmacy, a doctor, or for a blood donation; visiting a store to obtain essential goods or services; visiting a bank if a transaction cannot be done online; absolutely necessary visits to state services, public-sector services or municipal services; visiting persons who are unable to help themselves or are in self-isolation or quarantine; going outdoors for exercise or to walk one’s pet, for two persons at a maximum and the distance is close to one’s residence; going to ceremonies like funerals, weddings or baptisms, provided you are a first-degree or second-degree relative and the gathering must be no more than 10 people at any one time; any other reason (generic) for moving outside that may be justified despite the restrictions.
Whichever of the printed forms one uses, it must be filled out prior to going outdoors, and presented to police if stopped. It applies to people on foot as well as motorists.
All related information and the forms are available in both Greek and English at https://covid19.cy/index_en.html.
For instance, if a divorced parent wishes to visit their child who lives somewhere else, he or she can select the generic reason (reason number 8). If flagged down, they will need to convince police that their requested travel is reasonable and truthful.
Persons who for whatever reason do not have access to the forms, may instead carry on their person a handwritten attestation with the following information: full name; date of birth; ID or passport number; residence address; the time of movement; and the purpose of the movement, which must conform to the reasons cited in the government decree.
Alternatively, people may send an SMS requesting permission to go outside. The SMS must be sent to the number 8998 (no charge).
To compose the SMS, first type a number from 1 to 8 corresponding to one of the eight reasons you are going outside; then space; your ID number; space; your post code; and then send the message.
A reply should come within 10 to 15 seconds, authorising you to be outdoors for a maximum of three hours from the time permission is granted.
If stopped by police for a check, simply display the SMS on your phone.
Although there are currently no limits on the number of requests via SMS per day, Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy Kyriacos Kokkinos said authorities will track individuals’ movements to see whether the system is being abused for unnecessary or frivolous travel.
There are no formal restrictions on the number of passengers allowed inside a vehicle, but the advice from the government is for two persons at a maximum. If three or more people are inside a car at any given time, the passengers may need to justify that to police. Each passenger in a vehicle must have permission to be outdoors.
The same guidance on the number of passengers goes for taxis as well. Buses may carry a maximum of 30 per cent of their designated passenger capacity.
In addition, everyone must carry a form of identification at all times when outside – an ID or a passport.
Explaining the draconian steps, Kokkinos said that whereas no exemptions will be made regarding the holding of the required documentation (permission and an ID document), police patrolling the streets will also make judgments on the spot on a case-by-case basis.
He said that during the first few days authorities would try to be somewhat understanding, to smooth the transition, but also warned that any leniency should not be taken as tolerance for what are deemed to be blatant abuses.
Nouris stressed the word ‘exemptions’ to drive home the message that staying at home is the norm.
“How long we keep these exemptions in place depends on our fellow citizens and whether they will abuse [the system],” he said.
Depending on developments and the public’s conduct, more severe restrictions could be imposed in the future. This could include reducing the time allowed outside per permission.
If a person needs to be outside for more than three hours, he or she can send a second request for authorisation via SMS.
Nouris cited an example of a farmer who may need to travel a long distance to tend to his land which may be in another district, meaning it would take some time to get to the destination.
“But what won’t be tolerated is, say, someone going to a pharmacy, which takes 10 minutes, and then spending the rest of the three-hour limit on a joy ride.”
Violators will be fined €150 on the spot.
But police spokesman Christos Andreou told the Cyprus Mail the €150 on-the-spot fine does not apply immediately. He explained that parliament must first pass a new regulation adding the €150 to the list of on-the-spot of fines for reasons of public health.
This is expected to be enacted by parliament in the coming days, he added.
Until then, violators are subject to the provisions of the Quarantine Law, which provides for a fine of up to 450 Cyprus pounds (€765) and/or jail time of up to six months, to be decided by a court.
But once the €150 on-the-spot fine is authorised in relation to the latest coronavirus measures, violators will be booked but not taken to court., Andreou said.
Justice Minister Giorgos Savvides said such offences would immediately be filed and tried in the courts.
“I consider it self-evident that we must all respect and comply with the decrees. The government’s decisions must be strictly adhered to, no one has the right to disobey,” Savvides stated.
“Frivolous behaviours are a public hazard, and no one should gamble with human life. Those who do not comply shall be booked and will face the consequences of the law.”
For the same period the government has shut parks, play areas, open sports facilities, public meeting places – including squares, reservoirs, picnic areas, beaches, marinas, open markets and bazaars. Visits to sites like reservoirs or marinas are permitted, however, for work purposes.
Visits to churches, mosques and other religious venues are also banned.