With daily cases almost doubling between Monday and Tuesday from 67 to 122, experts have warned that Cyprus might be experiencing yet another wave, this time of the Delta variant, and repeated calls for the young to get vaccinated.
This follows a similar trend to other countries where the Delata variant, which originated in India, has led to a surge in cases.
The increase was “shocking”, and should absolutely be a cause for alarm, professor of microbiology/molecular virology at the University of Nicosia Medical School Petros Karayiannis told the Cyprus News Agency on Wednesday.
“If we relax too much, things could get out of control,” he said, echoing statements by fellow members of the advisory committee on coronavirus and the health minister over the past week, all of whom presented vaccination as the most effective weapon against the virus.
The rise in both cases and hospitalisations has been attributed to a combination of relaxations of restrictive measures, a low vaccine take-up among younger people, and a lax attitude towards personal protection measures and social distancing.
The health ministry reported on Wednesday that over 90 per cent of those hospitalised for Covid-19 are unvaccinated, adding that it must be assumed that the Delta variant is spreading in the community, since it mainly affects the unvaccinated.
It further said that 70 per cent of those who tested positive are below the age of 40 and only four per cent of them are fully vaccinated – while 16 per cent have received their first dose. The remaining 80 per cent have no history of vaccination against Covid.
The ministry’s announcement also warned that “in recent days there has been in increase in younger people being hospitalised”, linking the trend to the variant.
Younger people avoid getting vaccinated thinking they are in less danger of catching the virus or experiencing serious symptoms, but they can also easily transmit it to their families and workplace, Karayiannis said.
Speaking to Trito radio on Wednesday, acting head of Medical Services Olga Kalakouta expressed her disappointment about the low take-up among younger people, even after the vaccination portal opened for everyone over 18 on Friday.
She said that despite being constantly open, the portal only received 3,000 appointment bookings between Friday and Sunday and only around 300 since.
Despite the fact a study has shown that that two doses of the vaccine were effective in stemming the spread of the Delta variant, the ministry had said that as of Friday, only 25.8 per cent of 18–21-year-olds and 32.9 per cent of 20–29-year-olds had received at least one dose.
Even with the overall national vaccination rate inching towards the 65 per cent goal set by the health ministry, the above numbers are not satisfactory, Kalakouta said, yet again urging young people to get vaccinated.
Karayiannis said his guess would be that the rise in cases can be attributed to the Delta variant as it seems to be the dominant strain at the moment, much like the Alpha variant which originated in the UK was a few months back.
The health ministry said that the Delta variant has been detected in Cyprus even in people who have not been travelling.
Samples have been sent to ECDC (the European Centre for Disease Control) for sequencing but as the process is time consuming, it’s highly possible that the variant has already entered the community which might explain the uptick in cases and hospitalisations, it said.
The Delta variant is six times more transmissible than the Alpha and despite great efforts made across the world to vaccinate the public, it seems to be rampant both in Europe and countries who had spearheaded the vaccination process, such as the UK and Israel.
Karayiannis went as far as saying that the variant, which has been detected from airport checks, could affect the already weak tourist industry by preventing Cyprus from ever reaching “green” status this summer, or even going back to red.
“We therefore need stricter border controls and more random testing at airports to avoid disaster,” he said.
When the Alpha variant hit Cyprus in December, it caused the most significant outbreak of coronavirus in Cyprus despite all restrictive measures and strict border control, head of the advisory committee on coronavirus Constantinos Tsioutis had told CNA after the numbers were published on Saturday.
On Tuesday night, former member of the advisory committee Leondios Kostrikis warned of a possible fourth wave in September, theorising that all variants have inevitably led to new surges of the virus.
The ministry urged the public to adhere to health protocols, calling on those who have not yet been vaccinated, particularly younger people, to arrange their vaccination appointment as soon as possible to keep the new variant at bay and avoid a new outbreak.
“Those still on the fence about getting vaccinated should think twice and thrice. Imagine what will happen in September if the new surge has only just started,” Karayiannis said.