Saying that new measures may be needed, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas on Thursday urged the public to adhere to health protocols amid a surge in new Covid-19 infections and concerns that the Omicron variant could send numbers spiraling, further increasing pressure on state hospitals.
“It is a variant that is very easily transmitted, it will be transmitted in our country as well and the point is for us to take measures early, should they be needed,” he said when asked whether new steps may be needed to deal with the Omicron variant.
“Before we take any measures, we must all help this situation, wearing masks during the holidays, carrying out rapid tests and self-tests before our gatherings. If we adhere to these measures, I believe we will do very well.”
Any additional measures would depend on the number of cases and the number of hospital admissions, he clarified.
“Luckily in the past two days we had a reduction in hospitalisations, we did not have an increase. We will look at these results in the next few days and if additional measures are needed, we will take them. However, we will first consult the experts.”
The minister was speaking at the official opening of a post-Covid ward at the Eden centre in Tersefanou that will care for patients who have recovered from the virus but require rehabilitation.
Describing the operation of the centre as pioneering, the minister noted that Cyprus is only the second EU member state after Germany where the state offers such a service.
“I feel pride because we have managed through a tender procedure to give the opportunity to Cypriot patients to have the services offered by this centre, which as you have seen is a unique centre that exists only in Germany,” he said.
“We are pioneering with a pioneering centre as regards the treatment of patients,” he added.
The new ward has a capacity for 30 patients and the first four have already been transferred there. It is housed at the Eden rehabilitation centre which the state has been using for individuals infected with the virus who are asymptomatic or do not require hospital care but need to be isolated for a period in time. There are currently 100 patients at Eden.
Hadjipantelas said that in consultation with the doctors, it was established that post-Covid patients needed additional treatment after being discharged from hospital.
He said that the opening of the ward was the result of the efforts of the ministry’s permanent secretary Christina Yiannaki and her team, the director of the pneumonology department of Nicosia General Hospital Tonia Adamidou and the scientific director of Famagusta General Hospital Amalia Hadjiyianni.
Patients with lung issues will be referred to the new wing at the decision of a special committee. The centre will be staffed with a special pathologist, a pneumonologist, a nutritionist, six physiotherapists, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist and a psychologist, Yiannaki said.
The minister was asked about experts’ concern about the imminent impact of Omicron in Cyprus given the situation in Europe. The number of infections has been rising every day – it was close to 900 on Wednesday.
An update following sequencing of positive cases will be released on Friday, but professor Leondios Kostrikis of the University of Cyprus estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of cases are Omicron, with the new variant expected to account for 90 per cent by the end of the year.
“We are constantly following the situation as regards the specific variant. Instructions were given by the ministry yesterday for all patients admitted to hospital to be tested for the Omicron variant, we are looking at hospitalisations on a daily basis and taking action, as we have done from the first moment,” the minister said.
Pressed on whether a lockdown could be considered should the Omicron variant dominate, he responded: “Any measures we may take will be after consulting the experts.”
Asked about increased admissions in the ICUs, Hadjipantelas said that Nicosia Hospital ICU was currently treating more non-coronavirus patients. Okypy, the state health services organisation, will be asking private hospitals to help with ICUs, while efforts are made every day to transfer patients from the state to the private hospitals, he added.
“We will continue to do this so that there are no problems at state hospitals,” he said.
On the vaccines, he said that the Moderna vaccine was currently considered the best in the world whereas according to the scientific advisors, a combination of Pfizer and Moderna gives the best result. Moderna is the best and most expensive, he said.
His comments came amid a change at walk-in centres which over the next few days will be offering only Moderna jabs for boosters. Pfizer vaccines are available only with an appointment through the portal.
“From the moment we are giving the public the most expensive vaccine, I believe they should not protest. As for those who want a Pfizer, they can book an appointment through the vaccination portal. We never stopped anyone from getting a Pfizer.”