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Our View: SMS permission system violation of our liberties

The government has reverted to the excessive, repressive measures of last spring to protect public health despite assurances only a few days ago that there would be no ‘blanket lockdown’. On Friday it announced a three-week lockdown, starting Sunday, the only difference from that of the spring being that the airports would stay open. Otherwise, businesses have been closed down, social activities have been prohibited and people have been denied the right to leave their house without permission from state authorities.

This state-decreed house imprisonment is a brutal violation of human rights and personal liberty, a blatant case of abuse of power by the government. No other European state, apart from Greece, has imposed such a repressive measure as part of a lockdown. Has our government signed some agreement to follow every restriction imposed in Greece, which has a Covid-19 mortality rate three times that of Cyprus? Is there some contractual obligation to impose every repressive measure decided by the Mitsotakis government, or is the thinking that if Greece can get away with police state behaviour so could Cyprus?

What is the government’s justification for imprisoning people in their homes and allowing them out twice a day, for specific reasons stipulated by the state, and only after they have been granted permission? Citizens that ignore the decree and leave their home without approval are subject to a hefty fine if caught by the police patrolling the streets of what is increasingly resembling a police state. In the rest of Europe there are also lockdowns, but people can leave their homes whenever they choose to and as often as they like, because there is still an element of respect for citizens’ rights, in contrast to Cyprus where this respect been suspended in the name of public health.

This is part of the infantilisation of citizens we have been witnessing since the outbreak of the pandemic. Since then, the president, the health minister and epidemiologists have been treating citizens as children, condescendingly accusing them of being undisciplined, ignoring the safety measures, putting lives at risk and threatening them with tough punishment (stricter measures) if they did not behave! Even before the latest repressive measures several epidemiologists spoke publicly as if they were addressing children, assuring there would not be a full lockdown this time. There was, but it seems naughty children need to be lied to for their own good.

The blaming of undisciplined citizens and taking away their liberties, allegedly to protect them, has been a convenient way of diverting attention from the blunders committed by the government and its scientific team of advisors. The death toll rose significantly in the last few weeks not because of the reckless behaviour of citizens but because the authorities failed lamentably to protect the citizens most in need – the elderly. The virus entered old people’s homes in all districts because the authorities failed to carry out regular inspections to ensure that all the safety protocols were being observed. Health inspectors were too busy fining businesses for minor violations and booking shop assistants for not wearing a face mask, in keeping with the police state tactics, to bother with checks on care homes at which the truly vulnerable members of our society were living.

This was not the only government failure. For months now, the epidemiologists have been warning about a surge in infections during winter but the health ministry failed to prepare. It could have increased the number of hospital beds allocated for Covid-19 patients, it could have invested in more ventilators, it could have enlisted a couple of dozen personal doctors to help out and allocated the newly-hired nurses to the specific wards. It failed to do that, with Okypy only now in the process of opening new wards for patients in Larnaca and Paphos general hospitals; it could also have used wards in the Gesy-affiliated private hospitals. Had these steps been taken in advance perhaps there would have been no need for a lockdown, the main objective of which, according to the health minister, is “to give relief to the health system.”

Had the hospitals been prepared for the surge – the additional cost of this would have been a tiny fraction of what the lockdown will cost the economy – the lockdown may have been unnecessary, given that the epidemiological situation in Cyprus is much better than in most EU countries. We have 15 deaths per 100,000 residents, the second lowest in the EU, which would have been even lower if the government ensured care homes observed all health protocols.

It is with sensible, practical measures that public health would be protected and not through large-scale repression and the mass violation of citizens’ basic rights. People need to fight against this repression and a first step is leaving your house without sending an SMS for state permission. Free citizens in a democratic country do not need state permission to leave their house.

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