Outraged businesses Thursday lambasted the government’s latest coronavirus restrictions as a death knell for their livelihoods.
The anger was particularly virulent from the food and beverage industry as well as from shop owners within malls who blasted the government’s decision to shut them down as unjust and unreasonable.
The decision to temporarily close malls from Friday until the end of the month, prompted thousands to flock there for shopping, while the Church is calling on the government to reconsider its decision to ban congregations during the services.
Both owners of food and beverage businesses and of shops within malls said Wednesday’s decision to suspend their operations from Friday to December 31 as unjust as this period was the opportunity to make up for some of the losses of previous months.
“The decision is condemning over 500 businesses and 15,000 employees,” Giorgos Georgiou, director of the Nicosia Mall, told Sigma TV. “These people lost the turnover of four months including Easter, if they lose Christmas as well, it means they will lose 70per cent of their turnover, they are being led in bankruptcy, and their employees in unemployment.” The majority are family-run small and medium-size businesses, he added.
Georgiou questioned the government’s justification that shutting malls would help curb the spread of the virus, given that, at the same time, it is letting huge department stores, “some larger in size than us,” to continue to operate.
“How does this protect the population?” he asked. Georgiou argued that, on the contrary, the situation will deteriorate because this would oblige large numbers of people to gather in smaller areas.
He said malls have wide walking areas while they strictly observe the protocols.
“Yet, they shut us down, but at the same time they let other, massive shops, continue to operate,” he said.
News that the malls would be closed throughout the holidays and announcements by some businesses there of sales on Thursday, prompted thousands to rush to do their Christmas shopping on the last day before they roll down their shutters.
In all districts, malls were inundated by shoppers throughout the day. The manager of Paphos Mall, however, told the Cyprus Mail that all the necessary protocols were being followed.
“The mall is very busy, and we are at our limit which is 3,000 people, within the government’s rules,” he said. He added that most customers were people rushing to buy presents for their children.
The catering sector is also questioning the decision to shut them temporarily.
“It is unfair to close all of them down after the epidemiologists admitted that most of these places follow the measures, with only some cafes violating the protocol,” head of the association of recreational centres Fanos Leventis, told state broadcaster CyBC.
He added that it was unacceptable for the state to declares it cannot control a few cafeterias that have violated the protocol “and victimise the whole industry.” Food and beverage businesses have seen their turnover drop after, initially asked to close at 10.30 pm, and then at 7pm, he said.
Leventis said the contradictory statements by officials are “humiliating for our country.”
“On one hand, they tell us schools did not close despite the surge in cases, because if children stay home, parents will not be able to work from home,” he said.
Seeking to justify the decisions, the health ministry on Thursday published information on the measures in 31 European countries, arguing that most of them have suspended the operation of food and beverage businesses, leisure and fitness facilities, “which are places that present an increased risk for transmitting the virus due to crowding, mingling of groups of people, increased transmission and difficulty in properly adhering to personal protection measures.”
“The actions taken by governments focus on restricting social gatherings and, consequently, people’s contacts,” it said.
It also cites a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that says that the end-of-year festive season is traditionally associated with activities such as social gatherings, shopping and travelling, which would pose significant additional risks for intensified transmission of Covid-19 and recommends limiting their size and duration.
According to the list, 27 of 31 European countries closed restaurants and cafes and 25 of 31 closed entertainment places.
The Church too reacted to the announcement that services will be carried out without the presence of a congregation.
Archbishop Chrysostomos said on Thursday the Holy Synod would convene next week to discuss the new measures and called on the government to reconsider the ban to worshippers from attending the services.
He said that, for now, people ought to follow the measures, until further notice.
Bishops, however, have not shown the same understanding, with Morphou’s Neophytos, saying the churches under his bishopric would stay open and services will be held as planned. The Bishop said he assumes full responsibility “before God and before the law” if the smooth operation of the churches of his district is deemed to be contrary to the relevant government decrees.
Police warned, however, that it will continue to make sure the measures are observed, be it in churches, businesses or anywhere else.
Police spokesman Christos Andreou said they did fine people in churches found to violate the measures and that they do carry out checks there as in other places.
“This year’s Christmas and New Year celebrations are different due to the pandemic conditions,” Andreou told the Cyprus News Agency, and called on people to show understanding, and to follow the restrictive measures.
“The struggle is common and can be won when the effort is made together”, he said.