Rapid tests not older than 24 hours will be mandatory for attending weddings and other such events, while dancing is banned, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said on Wednesday after an emergency cabinet meeting.

There is also a ban on visiting people in hospital.

The minister announced the new measures after cabinet approved a series of suggestions by the advisory committee on coronavirus. The additional measures follow record spikes in daily infections for three days in the row. On Wednesday 3,002 cases were recorded, 2,241 on Tuesday and close to 2,000 the previous day.

From Thursday, entry to music and dance venues, weddings, christenings and other reception areas will be allowed only to those who present a rapid test not older than 24 hours. People who have had their booster jab are exempt.

Hadjipantelas recalled that entry to these venues is in any case allowed only to vaccinated people.

Also from Thursday, the maximum number of people at eateries, reception, music and dance venues, will be 300. People must remain seated while dancing is forbidden.

For weddings and christenings, this measure will be in effect from January 3.

From Thursday, visits to private and public hospitals and closed structures are banned, unless permission is given by the administration for urgent cases only and after the presentation of a PCR test not older than 24 hours.

For outpatient visits and patients’ escorts, a rapid test not older than 24 hours must be presented. People who have had the booster jab, are exempt.

No change was made last night to the numbers allowed to gather privately in homes. Under the existing mandate this remains at 20.

Stadiums from Thursday can operate at 50 per cent of their capacity while the use of the mask is obligatory. If premises are found to ignore the measures, authorities can revoke their licence. Stadiums are currently operating at 75 per cent of their capacity.

From January 4 to 15 all passengers arriving in the Republic must present a 48-hour PCR test prior to their departure to Cyprus. Upon arrival they must also get a PCR test at the airport at their own cost. This also includes vaccinated people.

From January 3, 40 per cent of staff of businesses offering services must work remotely. The measure currently provides for 20 per cent. This percentage includes people who are away either because they have Covid or are close contacts or are on their annual leave. Clarifications will be given tomorrow on the essential services that are exempt.

Cabinet also recommends that people use two surgical masks or high protection ones such as ΚN95 or FFP2 types. The use of fabric masks should be avoided, Hadjipantelas said.

The minister reminded the public that the use of a protective face mask in all indoors and outdoors areas is mandatory.

Distance learning and online exams in higher education was also recommended.

Hadjipantelas also announced changes from Thursday to the protocol on handling confirmed Covid cases and their close contacts among health professionals who have not been vaccinated or who did not get a booster jab seven months after their second dose.

Close contacts will have to get a PCR test on the fifth day and a rapid test on the sixth day with negative results after their contact with the coronavirus case to be released from self-isolation. Positive coronavirus cases can undergo rapid tests on the sixth and seventh days and if the result is negative, to be released on the eighth day if they do not show symptoms for a period of 48 hours. This decision concerns doctors, nurses and medical staff.

Prior to the cabinet meeting, Hadjipantelas met with the advisory committee on coronavirus to assess the situation and for the experts to submit their suggestions.

He said they agreed to reassess the situation on January 4, depending on the epidemiological outlook.

Unfortunately, the minister said, “the data show that many of our fellow citizens do not comply with personal protection measures, while dozens of establishments and entertainment businesses do not follow the health protocols, and as a result these venues are overcrowded.”

He said that the Omicron variant is now in the community and is expected to further burden the epidemiological picture. Referring to the surge in cases of the past few days, Hadjipantelas said this could lead to a rise in hospital admissions of Covid cases.