By Peter Michael and Gina Agapiou
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris on Saturday warned the public they needed to be disciplined when it comes to social distancing after coronavirus measures are relaxed as of Monday, or else the government would revert to full lockdown, he said.
“If there is no discipline, we will revert to taking measures which could be stricter,” he said, referencing the social distancing and other guidelines people are being told to follow.
One of the government’s scientific advisers spelled it out in more detail, saying that if cases rise to 20 or 30 for three or four consecutive days, total lockdown would be reinstated.
The health minister said during the week that a rise in cases was expected as measures were relaxed but said if everyone followed the precautions laid down, the situation would be manageable.
Approximately 25,000 businesses including smaller shops are expected to open as of Monday, and they will all be required to keep social-distancing measures such as providing eight square metres of space for each employee, the use masks if workers are in contact with the public and the provision of antiseptic handwash among other measures. Businesses must also record how many employees are working.
Phase 1 of the lifting of measures from May 4 to May 20 concern the construction sector, small retailers, markets, tourist and travel agents, and car washes.
Referring to the businesses that would be reopening, Nouris said there would be spot inspections by the labour department. Municipal traffic wardens are also being roped into inspections to ensure measures are being followed in shops and other businesses. Department stores and malls are not allowed to open yet.
Nouris added that traffic wardens would have a teleconference with the ministry on Monday for instructions and they would be included on a list of those allowed to carry out inspections. This was also confirmed by Justice Minister Giorgos Savvides who said there would be a teleconference with police.
“The police chief has already given revised surveillance orders and there will be an indisputable emphasis on the proper observance of all regulations issued by the relevant ministries,” Savvides told CNA on Saturday.
Due to the high number of business which will re-start their operation, the need for police patrols would be higher, he said.
“I fully understand and respect people’s desire for life to return to normalcy,” said Savvides, and he called on people to show restraint to “avoid any setback”.
“Any relaxation carries the risk of destroying what we have built with effort and sacrifices to date, and I believe it is clear that the way the virus is transmitted does not allow for any room for complacency or relaxation,” he added.
In contrast with other countries, Savvides said, the discipline of the vast majority of citizens in Cyprus helped the state to manage the spread of the virus.
He also called on people to report the violations by others on the citizen’s line 1460 or their nearest police station “as it is impossible for the force to be everywhere at once”.
Responsibility also falls upon the business owners as well as people visiting to abide by the measures, Savvides said.
Meanwhile, Professor of Microbiology/Molecular Virology at the University of Nicosia Medical School, Dr Petros Karayiannis, who advises the government said on Saturday it would take ‘a little bit more time’ than expected to see zero coronavirus cases in Cyprus. Figures have been in the single digits, bar one day, over the past week.
“There has been some carelessness,” Karayiannis said.
He said there needed to be more prevention. If authorities see a rise in confirmed cases to 20 or 30 for more than four consecutive days after the first phase of relaxations comes into force, then there could be a re-instatement of the complete lockdown.
“We will have to take two steps back,” he said, if cases rise to that extent.
Commenting on the single digit numbers seen in the past week, Karayiannis said the public would need to be “doubly careful”, because with the movement of people, there could be a spread of the virus if measures are not followed.
“I hoped we would have had zero cases by now, but there has been some carelessness,” he said. He added the epidemiological team had not seen a rise in cases during the Easter period, which was good news.
“Of course, there have been incidents in some businesses, in the nursing home,” he said, referring to one incident last week when a domestic worker employed by the owner of the nursing home had been confirmed as positive. No reports of elderly residents contracting the virus have been recorded however.
Karayiannis said micro-outbreaks could be isolated without the need for drastic measures on the general public but if there was a spread, then any reverting of measures should apply to the entire population.
From Monday people will be allowed out more with three SMS outings a day plus increased exercise options including swimming but only at sea and only in pairs who are required to adhere to social distancing. Parks will also open with restrictions to two people. People will also be able to go to church individually with a limit on ten people in church at the same time.
From May 21, if the data allows, all SMS restrictions will be lifted, hair and beauty salons can open as can libraries, betting shops, museums and archaeological sites, and restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating only. Curfew is also due to be lifted then.
Given that travel, tourism and the hospitality sector in general will be likely the last to see restrictions lifted, it was urgent that the construction industry returns to work to help kick-start the economy, PwC CEO Evgenios Evgeniou said on Saturday.
In statements to CNA, Evgeniou said: “The pandemic and its quick infection rate have caused drastic changes to our lives, the economy, and the business community.”
He said ways needed to be found for the construction sector to resume all activities without restrictions during the first phase of lifting the lockdown.
Around 40,000 workers are employed in the sector and thousands more in ancillary services such as architects and civil engineers.
“We must also proceed with the opening of retail businesses with some restrictions, and according to the recommendations of experts, we should open food and beverage businesses, which will have to operate differently than before,” the PWC boss said.
Recently, PwC conducted a survey of 45 CFOs in Cyprus, in which 62 per cent said if the pandemic ended now, they would be able to return to business as usual within three months.
Evgeniou said with the restart of economic mechanisms, care must be taken and the public needed to show a high degree of responsibility.