Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said Wednesday that with the island moving toward recovering from the coronavirus outbreak, the gradual lifting of measures set to begin next week is a testament of the progress being made, but it's also a source of intense concern over a potential relapse.
“From the first day we were called to manage the unprecedented crisis, we placed as our utmost priority the safeguarding of the healthcare system and protection of the population’s vulnerable groups,” Ioannou said.
“If today we are at a position to announce details about the easing of restriction measures, on the basis of what was announced by the President of the Republic last night [Wednesday], we owe it to your cooperation and we thank you once more.”
The Health Minister said that the positive epidemiological situation currently unfolding, and that is allowing us to take a step toward the gradual easing of restrictions, is a result of painstaking efforts involving intense contact tracing and management of confirmed cases.
“To ensure that the situation remains manageable, our steps will be slow and steady,” Ioannou said, before providing details on the aspects that fall under the umbrella of the Health Ministry in the Cyprus exit roadmap.
According to the Health Minister, with the implementation of the first phase of the exit strategy on May 4, public hospitals will begin making small strides toward fully resuming operation, but with certain restrictions.
Specifically, Ioannou said that visitations will continue to be prohibited.
Additionally, public hospitals will continue to allow the admission of non-urgent coronavirus cases, but these cases will not be permitted to surpass 60% of hospital bed occupancy, a figure which will be adapted according to the ongoing unfolding of the pandemic.
Even so, Ioannou said that public hospitals will be adjusting their operation in order to create enhanced abilities to deal with coronavirus cases.
Also, as announced by the President in his national address on Wednesday night, dental centres are set to resume operation.
Finally, as reported earlier this week, Ioannou said that outpatient clinics are set to reopen doors, providing services by specialist doctors. These clinics will operate by appointment only, and will follow strict health and safety protocols.
“The easing of restriction measures as of Monday, May 4, is not at all an easy task. Behind it lurk many dangers, on an individual and collective level,” Ioannou stressed.
“Our joy for the resumption of an important number of businesses is accompanied by an intense concern for the rise in confirmed cases, as has happened in other countries, such as Germany.”
He added that safety guidelines that are to be followed by all employees have been issued to all labour organizations and unions.
These include social distancing guidelines, to be enforced by customers and employees alike, the placement of antiseptic products at entrances, daily disinfection of premises, and access to face masks and thermometers at the workplace.
Protective face masks
As announced by President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday, employees of businesses reopening their doors on Monday during the onset of the first phase of the island’s lockdown exit strategy, will be required to wear protective face masks.
In view of this, Anastasiades said that the government will be offering a quantity of free masks to cover a portion of the needs arising from the mandatory mask use.
According to Ioannou, the Health Ministry had procured some nine million simple surgical masks last month, which are to be widely distributed across the public sector, and in relative moderation to private businesses.
Ioannou explained that the rule for mandatory mask use particularly applies to workers coming into contact with the public, such as supermarket and shop employees, bus drivers, and so on.
While mask use is not mandatory for the general public, the Health Minister urged the use of a mask when going out for groceries or other items, and when using public transport.
Mass COVID-19 testing
Ioannou said by Thursday, Cyprus had tested over 55,000 samples for the virus.
From the government programme involving 20,000 tests on employees still coming into contact with the public after the onset of the lockdown period, 17,601 had been conducted by Wednesday, uncovering 28 positive cases.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet agreed to launch a new round of an additional 20,000 tests on employees set to go back to work on Monday in the framework of the first phase of the gradual lifting of restrictions.
Specifically, 14,000 tests will involve workers of the retail sector, and the remaining 6,000 will target construction sector workers.