Cyprus will officially brief Athens of its decision to put Greece in category B, Government Spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said on Tuesday, justifying a move that provoked the ire of Greece.
The move also saw Cypriots cancelling trips to Greece while an airline announced changes to flights to Greek destinations.
Head of the travel agents’ association Vasilis Stamataris said on Tuesday the decision on Greece has shattered their “last hope.”
“We are in our offices only to issue announcements,” Stamataris told CyBC.
He said people started cancelling their trips since cases started rising in Greece but after the country was placed in category B more and more people cancel.
As of Thursday Greece, which was among the countries deemed safe as regards coronavirus and was in category A, will be placed in category B. This means that people travelling from there would need to present a negative coronavirus test certificate upon their arrival.
This has led to many Cypriots cancelling holidays to Greece.
Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said on Monday he could not understand why Cyprus put his country in category B.
“It is a decision I do not understand, I consider it to be wrong, I do not know exactly what criteria it was based on,” Theoharis told Greek Parapolitica radio.
He expressed the hope that the epidemiologists of the two countries would reach an understanding and that the Greek experts would be able to convey to their Cypriot counterparts that Greece is very safe, “much safer than any other country.”
“I do not consider it logical and right for our country to be in category B,” he said.
On Tuesday Kousios said Cyprus would contact Greek officials and provide the necessary explanations.
“It would have been better if we had officially briefed them,” Kousios told state broadcaster CyBC, adding that the government acted on the advice of the majority of the coronavirus advisory team who “expressed concerns after assessing the cases found at the airports during random checks on arrivals from Greece.
“We have had a significant number of cases, many of which had travelled to Greece from third countries and then to Cyprus,” Kousios said.
The health ministry said on Tuesday that between July 27 and August 2 of the random tests given to people arriving on 34 flights from category A and B countries, six people tested positive to the virus, five of them arriving from Athens, Thessaloniki and Mykonos. One of them was travelling from Germany to Cyprus via Thessaloniki.
During last week, random tests were carried out among others, on passengers arriving from 15 flights from Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete and Mykonos as well as two flights from London and one from Liverpool.
The ministry said that between June 9, when the airports reopened, until last Sunday, a total of 27,334 passengers arriving from category A and B countries were tested randomly.
Kousios said there is a surge in cases in Greece, “without saying we too don’t have a surge.
“Shouldn’t we then take measures to protect our people’s health when experts advise for more measures toward this direction?” he asked.
Cyprus Airways has already announced that due to the latest decision on Greece it would suspend flights to Thessaloniki and Skiathos from August 18 and reduce the frequencies of its flights to Athens and Heraklion.
Stamataris added that to the cancellations also contributed the policies of some large companies that told their staff that if they travel to category B countries, they will have to self-isolate upon their return without pay.
“People who have scheduled their trip do not want to land themselves in trouble,” he said.
Member of Cyprus’ team of experts Dr Zoi-Dorothea Pana told CyBC the decision was made after cases in Greece started rising and was part of the measures discussed to prevent the situation in Cyprus from deteriorating. She added that things might change if it is later deemed it was a rushed decision.
Professor of Microbiology/Molecular Virology at the University of Nicosia Medical School Dr Petros Karayiannis told the Cyprus News Agency that the next few days would show whether placing Greece in category B was the right thing to do. He added that the decision was taken in view of the rise in cases there, hospital admissions, even deaths but also of arrivals from Greece testing positive to the virus.
The health ministry said that since last Saturday, random daily checks at airports have been raised to 1,000 while more checks are being carried out on passengers arriving from Greece and the UK. Each day, 10 flights are subject to tests at both airports, it said.