By Elias Hazou and Evie Andreou
As Cyprus returned to a semblance of normality on Thursday with scores of people visiting cafes and hairdressers, and thousands of children returning to school, the government on Friday may announce a timetable for the resumption of commercial air travel, unshackling the tourism sector and boosting an economy starved for cash after more than two months of lockdown.
Meantime on the same day as restrictions eased, just one new case of Covid-19 was announced, bringing the total ever detected in the Republic to 923. It emerged from the results of 2,647 tests.
The latest person to test positive was among the individuals who had had contact with a confirmed carrier at a Paphos kindergarten, announced a few days ago. Both were employees at the kindergarten in question.
Despite the extremely low incidence, now ongoing for several days, Leontios Kostrikis, one of the government’s experts on the coronavirus, advised continued vigilance.
“The second phase of relaxations [on restrictions] which we entered today, signals an important point as we go forward,” he said at the Covid-19 briefing.
With the government and entrepreneurs alike geared to getting back to business, a possible decision on restarting air travel was expected during Friday’s meeting of the cabinet, to be chaired by President Nicos Anastasiades.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, a government source said the proposal put before the cabinet will likely call for restarting scheduled commercial flights on June 9, followed by charter flights on June 20.
Neighbouring Greece meantime, whose policies Cyprus has closely mimicked during the coronavirus situation, is poised to open back hotels as well as greenlight international flights via the ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’ airport only, on June 15.
Greece is reportedly among the 20 or so countries with which Cyprus will initially be opening up air travel.
Petros Karayiannis, a member of the team of scientists advising the government on Covid-19, recalled that the tourism minister had drafted a list of 20 countries.
The team was tasked with assessing the epidemiological data of the countries listed by the government.
Based on their risk assessment, they will recommend what arrangements should be made for flights from those destinations.
“If certain countries have the same epidemiological status as us, or even a better one, we would take in tourists without requiring them to produce a certificate of having tested negative for the coronavirus, and without quarantine,” Karayiannis told the Cyprus News Agency.
Reciprocal arrangements would apply to Cypriots traveling to these ‘low-risk’ countries.
For countries designated as of a higher risk, visitors would need to produce documentation proving they tested negative for Covid-19. But neither would these be placed in quarantine on arrival here.
For the first stage and, other than Greece, the list of 20 could include Israel and Malta, as well as Austria and certain Baltic countries where the coronavirus situation is well under control.
For countries like Italy and Spain, it would take longer to deem them as safe, although as cases there decline rapidly that might happen by July, Karayiannis said.
Asked how authorities can ensure no new cases of Covid-19 are ‘imported’, the scientist said thermal cameras at all airports will screen passengers prior to boarding.
Anyone registering a fever will be barred from boarding, and will be referred to a medical centre for a swab.
They must then isolate until their test result comes out.
Hotels being the other side of the tourism equation, their reopening will presumably be timed to coincide with the resumption of air travel.
Karayiannis did not foresee any major risk of virus transmission, provided both hoteliers and customers adhere to basic precautions and distancing rules indoors.
As far as outdoors goes, he said there was no danger whatsoever of transmission.
“Should a Covid-19 case present in a hotel, that person will be transferred to one of the hotels operating as a place for quarantine,” he added, hinting that shuttering the premises was not an option.
Nicosia and Athens meanwhile reached an agreement allowing certain Cypriot students to be flown to Greece on charter flights. The first such flights are planned for May 24.
Talk of gradually reconnecting with the outside world coincided with a long stretch of very low new infections – just one new case of Covid-19 being reported on Thursday.
On the same day, restaurants, cafes, bars and hairdressers were back in business (outdoor tables only) and all movement restrictions lifted.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.
Covid-19 lab tests are continuing among retail and construction workers, school pupils and teachers, and hairdressers and beauty salon professionals, the latter two categories having returned to their duties on Thursday.
The latest weekly epidemiological bulletin – data valid to May 19 – showed the case fatality rate in Cyprus stood at 1.8 per cent (17 deaths out of 918 positive cases).
To date, 17 people have died directly due to Sars-Cov-2, although many of the deceased also had underlying health conditions. Overall, 24 people with the virus have died.
The latest epidemiological bulletin itself does not distinguish between those who died from Covid-19 – the more accurate representation for the case fatality rate – and those who died with it. Instead, it cites only the higher number of 24 deaths and thus reports a case fatality rate of 2.6 per cent (24 divided by 918).
Previous bulletins had made that distinction, reporting both figures.
Elsewhere the report said that overall 174 (or 19 per cent) of persons diagnosed positive had ever received hospital care, while 32 cases (or 18.4 per cent of all hospitalised) have ever been admitted to ICU, of which four were still in ICU as of May 19.
The median age of patients admitted to ICU was 65.5 years.