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Coronavirus: Businesses hit by new lockdown call for more help

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Empty streets and closed shops during the lockdown

Unions asked for more help on Saturday for the businesses that will be hit by the new lockdown that will come into effect on Monday, while political parties criticised the government over the moves.

The measures are “harsh but necessary”, Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Keve) head Christodoulos Angastiniotis told CyBC, expressing the hope that the public will cooperate with the measures to make these the last ones we have to endure.

The lockdown is a last-ditch effort to stop the increasing spread of Covid infections, which reached record levels this week, threatening to overrun the island’s health system, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Friday outlining the new measures.

It is set to last from April 26 and May 9, after which the public must present a vaccination certificate, a negative test or proof that they were ill with the virus in the past three months to enter catering sites, places where people gather, gyms, retail outlets, theatres. It was not immediately clear if it included supermarkets as well.

Hospitality venues will once more bear the brunt of the measures as they will have to remain closed with the exception of delivery and take away. Shops, apart from those selling food and drink or other essential items will also close.

“It was only natural for this announcement to draw such strong reactions from the public, but it has to be seen from business owners’ perspective as well,” General Secretary of the Pancyprian association of owners of recreation centres (Pasika) Fanos Leventis told the Cyprus Mail.

Pasika has been adamant that the government should have been stricter with reviewing the measures in place for the running of food and drink establishments, he said. “Forcing everyone to close once more is an easy solution. I am sure it was a difficult decision, but it doesn’t stop it from being an easy solution”.

When these businesses reopened after the previous lockdown, there was an indication that they would not be closing again, as “we have time and time again pointed out the problems and costs that prolonged closures cause,” Leventis said.

The brief period some businesses were open for was not enough to cover previous losses, and “just because some opened does not mean they have had enough time to recover or manage their debts,” he said.

“Every district and every individual business is fighting their own battle, especially those who are part of our tourist economy,” Leventis added, emphasising the urgent need for financial aid.

This view was shared by federation of owners of recreation centres (Osika) president Neophytos Thrasyvoulou, who said the government needs to step up and offer substantial support to food and drink establishments to help them reopen when the time comes.

“Under no circumstances will we accept the vaccines and rapid tests measure as it is purely unenforceable,” Leventis said, expressing hopes that the epidemiological team will reconsider the specific measure in the next week.

Pasika is considering its next steps, not ruling out a protest, he added. “We need to express our concerns, not only about the lockdown but about what follows”.

Government Spokesman Kyriacos Koushos said the pandemic needs to be fought with actions and difficult decisions, “ones that necessary for the common good, such as the ones made by the government yesterday”.

However, Akel leader Andros Kyprianou said at a National Council meeting on Friday morning the President himself had said there would be no lockdown but later the cabinet decided otherwise, “bowing under the Church’s pressure”.

“Let me clarify that we are in favour of allowing the public to go to church, with appropriate measures in place, but we ask for the same rules to apply in cultural venues such as theatres,” he said.

He called the government’s handling of the pandemic “an utter failure”.

It is obvious from what we have seen in other countries, such as the UK and Israel, that the only way out is speeding up vaccinations, he said.

Kyprianou then questioned how we can reach the desired target of vaccinating 60 to 70 per cent of the population by summer, if only eight per cent have been vaccinated so far. “How will we get there in two months if it took us four months to get to eight per cent?” he asked.

Koushos said Kyprianou’s negative comments did not come as a surprise, as “Akel’s regular tactic for the past year is to wait for decisions to be announced in order to criticise and denounce them”.

“When the government enforces measures, Akel cites management failures, yet when it relaxes measures it is criticised for lack of responsibility,” Koushios said.

Diko said the new lockdown will hit small and medium businesses hardest while Edek said the government needs to admit the failure of its pandemic strategy.

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