By Evie Andreou and Elias Hazou
CORONAVIRUS will persist on the island for a long time, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou warned on Thursday, attributing this assessment to non-compliance with restrictions on movement as one new death and 36 new cases were detected, bringing to 356 the total number of carriers in the government-controlled areas, and taking the death toll to 10.
With no end in sight, the government also extended its flight ban for another two weeks. It was due to expire today.
“Coronavirus is here and will stay a long time,” Ioannou told the state broadcaster. He said there was currently a high number of cases in relation to the size of the population. “It seems there has not been compliance with the measures.”
He added that this was evident during the contact tracing of people who tested positive for the virus. Instead of two to three contacts, some were found to have around 10.
It was also announced that the authorities had identified two hotspots, Paphos and Aradippou that were showing more cases than other areas.
The minister said he did not expect the pandemic would reach its peak in Cyprus soon, again citing non-compliance with the measures taken.
In a more personal touch, posting later on Facebook Ioannou said he was conflicted over the restrictions and the inconvenience caused to people, but that his duty to protect public health trumped everything else.
“I am accountable to the constitution and to my own conscience,” he wrote.
“Not even in my worst nightmares would I have imagined the time would come when I’d be forced to issue decrees restricting civil liberties. As for criticism from certain quarters comparing me to ruthless dictators, I leave it to people to decide.”
Petros Karayiannis, Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Virology, likewise said many new cases were expected within the coming period.
The steep rise in confirmed cases, he said, “is due to the lack of discipline of the population.”
Karayiannis told the Cyprus News Agency that double-digit numbers in new cases were expected within the coming days but hopefully not as high as Wednesday’s when 58 people tested positive.
He said there was still a long way to go until the peak, expressing the hope however that this would occur before May.
The situation next week would be indicative of the trend, he added.
“At the moment, the current numbers are manageable,” Karayiannis said, pointing out however also the importance of having enough staff in state hospitals to deal with the situation.
He said the infection of health professionals created logistical problems. “We can’t have health professionals testing positive.”
Since Tuesday a curfew has been in place between 9pm and 6am every night. The government also limited permission for persons to leave their homes to just one per day.
By Thursday Covid-19 detected infections rose to 356 overall, with the day registering 36 more cases. A woman aged 77 with underlying health issues died in Limassol hospital’s ICU, the health ministry said.
That brought to 10 the death toll to date associated with Covid-19. Eight of the 10 had underlying conditions.
Twenty-four of the new cases came about through contacts with confirmed cases while one had recently returned from abroad. The backgrounds of the rest 11 of the cases is being investigated. The total cases include 10 people in the British bases.
“The number is smaller than yesterday’s, but 37 cases is not a small number either,” virologist Leontios Kostrikis said comparing the new cases with the 58 announced on Wednesday, which had been the biggest jump in numbers to date.
As of Thursday, 35 people were hospitalised in Famagusta General, including five people in ICU. Three people were released from the hospital.
Nine people are intubated, two in Limassol and seven in Nicosia. Their condition is said to be critical but stable.
The north of the island has reported 81 Covid-19 cases and two deaths since the outbreak.
Also on Thursday, the government said it would extend the ban on commercial flights for an extra two weeks. The ban extension comes into effect at midnight on April 4 and for 14 days. The ban excludes cargo flights.
Meanwhile authorities were planning to conduct more extensive testing in the two hotspots – Paphos and Aradippou. The mayor of Aradippou urged residents to take the test but revealed many are afraid of the social stigma attached to Covid-19 after one family was bullied into locking themselves up in their home when a relative was diagnosed as a confirmed case.
Detailed epidemiological and statistical data released on Thursday – and covering the period until March 31 – show that the mortality rate associated with Covid-19 in Cyprus was less than one in 100,000 people.
The case fatality rate stood at 3 per cent. Out of an estimated 900,000 people residing in the government-controlled areas, eight people had died by that date, working out to a mortality rate (deaths divided by population) of 0.9 per 100,000 persons.
By March 31 a total of 7,397 tests had been performed (844.5 per 100,000 population). Of those tested, 267 or 3.6 per cent were found positive.
And through a new decree the health minister extended to April 13 a ban on public and private gatherings of over 75 persons. The specific ban was initially due to expire on March 31.
In addition, the same decree extended to April 13 an order to both state and private hospitals that they postpone any non-essential scheduled surgeries and admissions.