The decision to scrap free testing for the unvaccinated was taken to spare the state millions of euros and allocate those funds to support state hospitals, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said on Saturday, in answer to a reporter’s question during his visit to the Nicosia General Hospital.
“So far we have paid 26 million euros for rapid tests…right now, our hospitals need this capital injection,” Hadjipantelas said.
Saying the views of everyone are respected, the minister said that since people have the choice to get vaccinated, they do not need access to rapid tests.
“But since they themselves decided not to get the vaccine, we consider it their obligation to pay for the rapid tests,” he said.
The health ministry will continue to operate approximately 50 free rapid testing locations nationwide
The mobile testing sites will operate for minors do not currently have the option to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or whose parents/guardians do not consent to them being vaccinated as well as everyone who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, on presentation of a medical certificate.
Pregnant women on presentation of a medical certificate from their gynaecologist confirming that vaccination is not recommended will also be allowed to use the free testing sites. However, starting August 8, pregnant women must present a relevant approval from the Cyprus Medical Association and the Ministry of Health.
Also eligible for free testing are people who have received the first dose of the vaccine and for the three weeks require a test to secure a SafePass, or are fully vaccinated against the virus with the presentation of their vaccination card. Exempt from paying for a rapid test are also people who have contracted and recovered from the virus within the last 180 days.
Unvaccinated taxpayers and contributors to the health service Gesy who wish to get tested for a SafePass, starting Sunday, can do so at licensed clinical labs and pharmacies and not at the mobile rapid test units, the health ministry said on Saturday, though it did not issue a list of approved labs or pharmacies.
As free rapid tests for the purposes of obtaining a SafePass will be scrapped from August 1, questions are being raised about the authorised locations to carry out a rapid test privately.
Asked whether a list of approved labs and pharmacies would be issued, the health ministry has repeatedly declined to answer since Friday. On Saturday, a spokesperson said in a text: “All clinical labs and pharmacies who wish to, can carry them out”.
However, an earlier missive from the ministry regarding the private testing for the unvaccinated said “citizens can undergo rapid antigen tests only at the licensed clinical laboratories which are the main bodies responsible for carrying out tests, as well as at the licensed pharmacies”. It has not yet specified who these are.
In addition, the ministry said it had established policies for the inspection and supervision of the procedures to be followed regarding the necessary knowledge as well as the medical equipment to be used since, as agreed by the member states of the European Union, “only products of specific manufacturers can be used for the issuance of the EU Digital COVID Certificate”.
This appears to indicate that not all rapid tests are created equal. For the purposes of travel, in case people wish to issue an EU Digital Covid Certificate, must ask the specific pharmacy or laboratory if they are connected to the online platform and are able to issue the certificate after the testing.
According to the Supervisor for clinical laboratories, health ministry official Carolina Stylianou, there about 400 pharmacies and 150 clinical labs across Cyprus and the majority of them have expressed interest in conducting Covid tests.
Every day more labs are expressing interest, Stylianou said, therefore there cannot be an official complete list of labs and pharmacies.
Saliva rapid testing for coronavirus is still not accepted by the health ministry, Stylianou added.
The maximum price for the tests starting Sunday was set by cabinet at €10 but some pharmacies and labs have been advertising their prices at between €5-€8 as well.
The WHO, the ECDC and the Cypriot Ombudswoman and one political party – Akel – have advised that testing remain free for everyone in order to continue to have an accurate epidemiological picture of the pandemic.
And, while unvaccinated residents are required to carry tests valid for 72 hours to enter any business with a capacity over 10 people because the Delta variant is so dangerous, unvaccinated tourists do not have to test again for seven days after arrival on the island as part of the government’s plan to curb transmission.
UPDATE: The health minister was asked about the approved labs and pharmacies and said they must be connected to the software of the health ministry so that the certificate for the test can be issued immediately.