Monday’s decision by the council of ministers about the Omicron cases did not last very long. What the minister of health, Michalis Hadjipantelas, said after the meeting was changed in the clarifications issued by the ministry of health a few hours later. The mandatory state quarantine imposed on five people last week was abandoned.

After the meeting, Hadjipantelas said that positive cases found to have contracted the Omicron variant “or any other possible future mutation are obliged to isolate in places that would be dictated by the ministry of health.” This was perfectly in line with statements made at the weekend, when the five people were placed under mandatory state quarantine at the Eden Resort in Tersefanou. It was also said that other Omicron cases would be quarantined there.

Yet, just a few hours after the minister’s statement on Monday, the health ministry issued an announcement titled, ‘Clarifications on the decisions of the council of ministers’, in which the idea of ‘state quarantine’ was not mentioned. Those found to have contracted the Omicron variant “are obliged to stay in self-isolation in their place of residence.” In short the health ministry would not be sending an ambulance to take the Omicron-infected person to the place dictated by the ministry of health.

We do not know the reason for this welcome change of mind by the government. This was not just an impractical measure – how many state quarantine centres would have to be set up to house all the Omicron cases – it was also futile. It takes several days to establish that a positive case is Omicron, by which time the variant may have already been spread in a household. Would the entire household then have been moved to a health ministry indicated quarantine centre? Common sense, which did not feature in the government’s original thinking, dictated that the person/persons continued to self-isolate in their home.

A more important factor, which we doubt was given much consideration by the government, was that placing an individual in a quarantine facility was a gross violation of personal liberty, especially as other positive cases were allowed to self-isolate in their home. In the past, before the vaccine rollout, only positive cases arriving from abroad were placed in quarantine, whereas now, the authorities would be taking a person from their home by force to place them in a quarantine facility.

Only authoritarian regimes could resort to a such flagrant violation of an individual’s rights and freedoms. It is a huge relief that the government decided against it in the end, even if it was for the wrong reasons.