Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said authorities were worried by the sudden spike in coronavirus infections despite expecting an uptick as restrictions were eased.

Ioannou was speaking after a meeting with state health services (Okypy) brass who informed him about their readiness to tackle a potential third wave of the virus. The minister also convened an emergency meeting of the Covid advisory team in the afternoon following the spike in cases, mainly in Limassol.

“I don’t have anything to recommend to the epidemiologists,” he said. “The de-escalation plan is based on the experts’ recommendations. We expected a rise in cases with de-escalation of the measures, but the sudden spike worries us.”

He said he wanted to hear the experts’ views on the current situation and whether they had anything else to propose.

Ioannou could not say whether the authorities were considering changing their de-escalation plan in view of the surge.

“You cannot even plan for the midterm with the pandemic,” he said. “That is why I have personally been emphasising for some time that it could be a matter of days before the pandemic gets out of hand and then a matter of weeks to contain it and reduce hospitalisations.”

The afternoon meeting with the experts agreed there was cause for concern but agreed that the guide in any future steps would be the capability of the health system to respond.

According to a news release issued after the teleconference, the advisory team said “at this phase the rise in cases did not affect the health system while data showed hospitalisation of serious cases has dropped.

“Decongestion of the health system is also due, to a significant degree, to the vaccine coverage of the elderly who have an increased risk of serious illness.”

The meeting did not discuss the de-escalation of measures pending the revaluation of the epidemiological data next week.

Okypy has been preparing since the end of January for a potential third wave of the virus, taking advantage of the lull.

The organisation has prepared an updated plan with more beds allocated for Covid patients in wards and ICUs.

“They have carried out training, additional equipment has been deployed, while now there is all this accumulated experience at Okypy, which is utilised in cooperation with the private sector ahead of a potential third wave,” the minister said.

The meeting with the advisory team was decided on Monday evening, following the announcement of 302 new infections, most in Limassol.

The rise came the day Cyprus eased restrictions in certain sectors, including schools.

Okypy spokesman Charalambos Charilaou said on Monday the organisation is operating on a worst-case scenario basis, which would see the deployment of over 300 beds in Covid wards and around 65 in ICUs.

The head of the contact tracing team said he did not expect a reduction of daily cases in the next weeks.

Valentinos Sylvestros told the Cyprus News Agency the rise in infections in Limassol mainly originated in five schools with the biggest cluster numbering 30 people.

Those figures concern the past week with weekend data showing a spread of the virus from the children to members of their family.

“We are talking about 109 primary school pupils last week, that is, around 100 families. If a parent is infected, then they will transmit the virus in their workplace,” he said.

Sylvestros said authorities would know the size of the transmission in the next five days but he did not expect a reduction in the daily numbers, perhaps a rise.

“The spread is an issue of adherence to protocols and if pupils assemble during break and teachers don’t observe measures when in the offices, this helps the dispersal.”

Sylvestros added that they also had reports from teachers that pupils went to school while symptomatic.

If a child or a teacher show symptoms they should not go to school, he noted.

“This was done before the pandemic when you were ill and they are, I think, self-evident things that we forgot,” he added.

The head of the contact tracing unit said it appeared two large clusters in two Polemidia primary schools had been started by one teacher who works in both and who showed symptoms after a rapid antigen test came back negative.

Apart from schools, authorities detected transmission chains at Limassol general hospital and banks where it is proven that in offices where staff sit side by side or take breaks together the virus spreads easily.

Between February 20 and 26, 56 teachers and 109 primary school pupils were infected, 25 high-school pupils, and five kindergarten children.

The figures concern 43 primary schools, 19 high-schools, 15 private schools and nine kindergartens.

“We are at a difficult but manageable point for the time being. It is necessary for people who are close contacts to isolate so as not to spread the virus and see cases double and triple,” he said.