Malls, cinemas, restaurants and churches will temporarily close in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus following an alarming spike, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced on Wednesday.
Speaking after an extraordinary meeting of cabinet, the minister said measures already in force would be extended until December 31 and announced a few, additional measures targeting closed spaces.
From Friday morning, malls and food and beverage businesses, will close.
Restaurants and cafes will be able to offer take away and delivery services. After 9pm, when the curfew starts, only delivery will be allowed. This measure concerns restaurants, taverns, cafes, pubs, snack bars and bars, coffeeshops and canteens in sports clubs, cultural clubs, and associations.
Catering facilities within hotels and tourist accommodation may be open until 9 pm only for the service of customers staying at these places.
The operation of dining areas at the Paphos and Larnaca airports is allowed.
Large department stores and shops over 500 square metres – excluding supermarkets – will be allowed to operate but must comply with the rule of one person per 10 square metres, while a ceiling will be set on the number of customers.
Church services will be without congregations with the exception of weddings, funerals and christenings where they will be a 10-person limit.
The operation of open-air and closed theatres, cinemas, events halls, and amphitheatres is suspended.
These measures will be in effect from 6 am on Friday.
From Monday, December 14, classes in lyceums, both in private and public schools as well as higher education, will be through distance learning.
Kindergartens, primary and high schools will operate normally.
In addition to the suspension of sports and social activities for people under 18 which is an existing measure, the operation of afternoon tutoring centres is suspended.
All measures will be in effect until December 31.
“Until then, the situation will be re-evaluated in order to review the measures, provided that the epidemiological picture allows it,” Ioannou said.
“The virus is everywhere in all cities, districts and villages,” he said, adding it was important to suppress its spread before it was too late.
Some measures that had been implemented did not yield the expected results, he said, due to the fact that people are tired of the situation.
“If the epidemiological picture allows us, we will give some relaxations at Christmas,” Ioannou said.
On the decision to suspend the operation of food and beverage businesses, the minister said that though police were carrying out checks, it could be seen on social media that the measures were not applied in several such places. “They switched over to being a bar from a specific time onwards,” Ioannou said. “We have to realise that it takes collective effort, we have a few months left and we have to work together.”
The minister also said that next week, more information would be given to the public about the Covid-19 vaccine and the vaccination programme.
“If all goes well, we will have the first doses in early January,” he said. The minister stressed that for there to be immunity, three weeks must pass. “So, those who will be vaccinated first will have developed immunity in early February,” he added.
The Pfizer vaccine does not give people immunity to Covid-19 but the company says trials have shown a reduction in symptoms. There is also no evidence yet that any of the vaccines stop transmission of the virus and vaccinated people would still need to self-isolate if they are found positive.
According to the medical journal, the Lancet the impact of the Covid vaccines on infection and thus transmission is not being assessed. “Even if vaccines were able to confer protection from disease, they might not reduce transmission similarly,” it said.
“Challenge studies in vaccinated primates showed reductions in pathology, symptoms, and viral load in the lower respiratory tract, but failed to elicit sterilising immunity in the upper airways.”
The government expects the vaccination programme will cover around 150,000 people by the beginning of March with priority given to the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
The minister stressed that the measures, however, “will continue until the necessary vaccination coverage is achieved, which according to experts should reach up to 70 per cent of the population.”
He urged people to be patient. “We are at the end, but unfortunately there is complacency and that is why some measures do not work. It is necessary to observe the measures because we have no other choice.”
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou announced later that support through the special schemes for all businesses affected by the latest measures, continues for December in the same way and procedures as in the previous months.
After the minister’s announcement, members of the advisory committee on coronavirus presented the epidemiological situation and discussed the measures.
Head of the committee, Constantinos Tsioutis, said that while a somewhat improvement had been observed, a steep deterioration occurred recently.
He said that taking these measures was necessary given the epidemiological picture and the holiday season ahead arguing that a new, third, wave is expected in January after the holidays, since inevitably, gatherings will take place.
“I estimate that if the measures are properly followed, in a few weeks we will start to see improvement”, Tsioutis said.
Committee member Giorgos Nicolopoulos expressed concerns over the fact that the positivity rate of PCR tests had risen from 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent.
“We had seen a drop for a few days, but suddenly the percentage skyrocketed and we observe the same in the antigen (rapid) tests where from 1.8 per cent it has risen to 3.1 per cent,” he said.
On the epidemiological picture in each district, he said that Paphos continues to be at good levels, Limassol continues to show decline, “but at a very slow pace, Famagusta shows some stabilisation, but is at high levels and in Nicosia and Larnaca the upward trend continues.”
The virus reproduction number is at 1:1.05 islandwide, but there is a difference between the districts. In Nicosia it is over 1: 1.2 and in Larnaca it is over 1: 1.5, he said.