The use of face masks is recommended but not required in the Republic of Cyprus, while Turkish Cypriots in the north are being told medical masks are mandatory during Ramadan.
Health expert Petros Karayiannis, a virology professor at the University of Nicosia, told state radio on Thursday morning that wearing a medical mask is necessary when people are having face-to-face conversations, while also pointing out that warm weather can help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
But in the north, Turkish Cypriot authorities were expected to issue an order on Friday making mask-wearing mandatory in public.
While both Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south have been following very similar measures against the spread of the pandemic, mask-wearing guidelines have been an exception.
While both north and south have been taking similar measures against the spread of the pandemic, mask-wearing is an exception
The director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, George Gao, praised non-pharmaceutical strategies including social distancing but warned western countries earlier this year that not wearing masks in public was a “big mistake.”
“Droplets play a very important role, you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth,” Gao said.
But the World Health Organization came out recently reiterating their position that the use of masks in the community may create a false sense of security, prompting people to disregard physical distancing measures.
“There is no evidence that wearing a mask can protect healthy people from coronavirus,” WHO said.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also expressed doubts over the use of medical masks by members of the public.
“It is not known how much the use of masks in the community can contribute to a decrease in transmission in addition to the other countermeasures,” ECDC has said.
North: face masks required during Ramadan
But Kudret Ozersay, who is in charge of foreign matters in the north, said masks would be mandatory as people were getting ready to start Ramadan celebrations on Friday.
Officials in the north said religious group gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan would be banned, while certain measures would be in place to reinforce social distancing. Believers were also urged to shelter in place and pray at home.
South: masks at the beach 'a good idea' but not required
But in the south, while restrictions remained in place, Karayiannis said easing some restrictions over the summer, such as opening up public beaches for swimming, was not out of the question.
Karayiannis clarified that people would not have to wear face masks while doing physical exercise outdoors, but he added it would be a good idea nonetheless.
“When we go to the beach [in the summer], the weather is hot and the virus cannot survive in such temperatures because the droplets will dissolve quickly,” Karayiannis added.
Use beach towels instead of sunbeds
But the expert warned that beachgoers must follow good personal hygiene and choose a beach towel over a beach bed to sit or lie down.
Karayiannis also called on local authorities to have crews on standby in order to disinfect beach beds and other surfaces in areas typically used by beachgoers.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou also weighed in on the issue of masks, pointing out that their use had not been adopted by ECDC or WHO.
Ioannou told a local TV channel on Wednesday that people should take personal protective measures even if restrictions are lifted gradually, adding that a roadmap for lifting Covid-19 measures had been decided from the very beginning.
Nine million masks for added safety
But the minister also confirmed that 9 million masks had been ordered with an estimated arrival in May, saying this could be an additional measure for people who want to take added precaution for extra safety in the workplace.
He also said a team of experts was preparing a handbook for businesses to follow best practices, while reminding people to wash their hands often and avoid handshakes.
Ioannou said that any ease on restrictions would be “gradual and managed” in accordance to European Union guidelines.
“This is the right thing to do, and it was also the advice of the health team to do this in a gradual and manageable manner,” Ioannou said.