Authorities are working on increasing occupancy on flights to mitigate the loss of visitors from Russia and Ukraine, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said on Thursday during a visit to Paralimni where he inspected progress on improvement work underway at Kapparis Avenue.

His remarks, aiming to ease concerns about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Cyprus’ tourism, were followed by a blunt statement by Paralimni mayor Theodoros Pirillis who objected to plans to move 150 unaccompanied minors from Pournara reception centre to hotel facilities in the area.

“Some people are aiming at making some buildings either in Protaras or Ayia Napa into reception centres for migrants and I am sending them the message, hands off,” he said.

“Protaras and Ayia Napa will not become Pournara and they should get it out of their heads,” he added.

Earlier this week and amid an uproar over horrific conditions at Pournara which had prompted President Nicos Anastsiades to visit the site and promise solutions, the deputy minister for welfare announced that arrangements were being made to move 150 unaccompanied minors from Pournara to accommodation in the Famagusta district.

Anastasia Anthousi said the decision was approved by cabinet as part of efforts to decongest the overcrowded reception centre and would be implemented next week. Social welfare personnel will be taken on to provide unaccompanied minors with the necessary care, she added.

Pirillis said the free Famagusta area, from a rough diamond, was now polished as a result of all the renovations and improvements carried out and offered everything visitors wanted.

He projected a ‘strange year’ for tourism but said there was increased interest from the UK and central European countries. He thanked the transport minister and the deputy minister of tourism for their efforts to ensure flight connectivity and urged hoteliers to show self-restraint and not to panic.

“If the war is not generalised, I believe we can have good rates of tourist growth, something I think will apply to Protaras next summer and the following years. The upgrades have brought the place to a level that foreigners coming here for their holidays want,” he said.

Everyone should work together to deal with problems, especially problems some hoteliers may be facing with banks.

“We should all give hoteliers a little more time because personally I believe conditions over the immediate future are very favourable. The future belongs to us and the comments we hear from tourists is that Protaras and Ayia Napa are in their hearts and they will visit as soon as conditions allow,” he added.

For his part, Karousos said that about two million seats that were available for the Russian and Ukrainian markets have been lost and efforts are underway to make this up with other markets.

He and the deputy transport minister have contacted nearly all the large airlines to convince them to increase the number of flights, or in the case of those with a base in Cyprus to increase the number of planes based here.

“We believe that a significant part of the loss from Russia and Ukraine can be covered. The flights are there, the markets are there, and we need collective effort by the government and tourism stakeholders to increase occupancy on flights,” he said.

Karousos also inspected improvement work on Kapparis avenue in Paralimni which started in September last year and will take two years to complete at a cost of €7.7m.

The project covers the northern part of the avenue and new road network – the main section of 2.07 km and secondary road network of 1 km.

The main network includes two lanes with parking, paved pavements, green strips, a cycle path in the right side, pedestrian crossings and bus stops. A new roundabout will be built at the end of the avenue.