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Coronavirus: Easing of measures thrown into doubt with spike in cases (updated)

ΠτΔ – Επιστημονική Συμβουλευτική
Anastasiades meeting the scientific team on Tuesday

Cautious optimism following President Nicos Anastasiades’ morning meeting with the coronavirus advisory team for the next phase of gradual relaxations was brought into question later on Tuesday when the health ministry announced 420 new cases had been recorded.

The cases, an increase of 68 and a 0.35 per cent higher positivity rate over Monday, create a gloomy backdrop for the council of ministers meeting on Wednesday, after which the health minister had been expected to announce the gradual lifting of restrictions – starting on March 16.

But pending further announcements, it appears that the SMS system will remain in place (two outings) until the end of March while the most notable easing of restrictions is expected to see lower secondary schools returning to class and cafés, bars and restaurants opening with the curfew extended to 11pm.

The number of people allowed to congregate in a house is expected to go up to 10, according to sources who spoke to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), from the current four guests.

The government’s advisory team is seeking to strike a delicate balance in containing the pandemic – hospitalisations are currently their main concern – while also allowing some breathing room for the economy and a pressure release for the public.

“We spoke of restaurants, bars and cafés so while the final decision will be taken by the council of ministers [on Wednesday] I foresee a wider reopening [to include cafes and bars, not just restaurants],” a member of the advisory team told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday afternoon.

“There has to be a proportionate move so that if restaurants reopen the curfew reflects that but as for it being an extra hour or such, there were various suggestions.”

It is widely expected that any such reopening will be under the strictest conditions as previously seen, such as limits on the maximum number of people allowed in a café, for example.

But that was called in to question later in the day after the spike in daily cases. Another member of the coronavirus advisory team was asked whether the developments of the last 24-hours would have any impact on Wednesday’s announcement.

“All the data will be taken into account and evaluated by the Council of Ministers,” Zoe Dorothea-Pana told CyBC news.

As for lower secondary schools, children had been expected to return to class on March 16 as stated by the education minister about 10 days ago, with in-person teaching being linked to proof of a negative coronavirus test.

Sending this message home, the Parents’ Association of Public Secondary Schools said on Tuesday night they are deeply concerned about and strongly opposed to any further delays to pupils being able to attend in-person classes, such as a reopening being put back until March 22.

They said great concessions and sacrifices had been made throughout the pandemic but that other criteria must be taken into account by the advisory team, such as the psychological and social welfare of students – which they say has suffered greatly during the lockdown.

A meeting between the Cyprus Hotel Association (Pasyxe) and Anastasiades took place on Tuesday night, with the hoteliers eager to reopen, especially for domestic tourism.

While no statements were made after the meeting it is understood Pasyxe was looking for hotel workers to be given priority for vaccinations and for there to be subsidised rapid tests at hotels.

Other demands include further transnational agreements beyond the two signed with Israel and the UK for vaccinated tourists to travel without restrictions.

It is also understood they were to ask for further relaxations as regards the number of people allowed at the indoor and outdoor dining areas, while state subsidies are also on the agenda.

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