By Elias Hazou
Covid-19 contagion in Cyprus may peter out in approximately two weeks if the current controls are kept in place, a medical expert has told the Sunday Mail.
“We expect transmissibility to plateau in about two weeks, meaning new cases dropping to one or two per day around that timeframe and eventually flat-lining,” said Petros Kararayiannis, professor of microbiology/molecular virology at the University of Nicosia Medical School.
But he also qualified that precise projections at this point are tricky, as authorities still don’t have a full picture as to carriers who didn’t come forward.
Karayiannis, a member of the health ministry’s advisory committee for coronavirus, added the situation in the government-controlled areas is currently at a delicate stage and that, based on the approach adopted by the government, easing the restrictions now was out of the question.
“The measures will have to stay in place until we’re absolutely sure things are under control.”
Asked what ‘under control’ means and when authorities might begin relaxing the restrictions on movement and gatherings, Karayiannis offered that it would likely occur once new cases dip to zero over a period of stabilisation.
“And even then, going on the experience from Hubei province in China, you’d have to wait maybe a while longer to make sure the virus doesn’t rebound.”
On what ‘model’ of containment Cyprus is going with, Karayiannis did not specify but again cited China:
“The experience of Hubei where they were able to quickly contain the spread through total lockdowns, is a very good example. Our government was very prudent to act fast, for instance closing schools down soon after the announcement of the first cases.”
As in other countries, authorities here worry about the healthcare system being overwhelmed by serious cases. They want to avoid that ‘tipping point’ beyond which the system starts to seize up.
Earlier in the week, the health ministry said there are 32 ICU beds available for Covid-19 patients. It added that the number of beds could be gradually increased to 125 with the addition of 89 additional beds in Nicosia and four in Limassol. These numbers are only for state hospitals.
Karayiannis noted that so far approximately one-tenth of cases in Cyprus have required intensive care treatment, calling this ratio “manageable”.
The advisory committee meets formally – remotely over the past 10 days – twice a week although its members are in constant contact.
In the professor’s opinion, a lockdown is essential given the potentially exponential contagion rate of coronavirus, where one person can affect up to three others, although to date global data average out to 2.5 persons being infected by each individual.
“With Covid-19 you can go from one individual to three, then nine, and so on. By comparison, the contagion rate of the common flu is 1:1. If we didn’t have restrictions coronavirus would spread uncontrollably in the community.”
On whether Cyprus bears similarities to Italy in terms of inter-generational living, Karayiannis said it does. But he stressed that focusing on protecting the elderly was not the sole or driving factor shaping policy here. Rather, “the idea is to stop the virus spreading, period”.