Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou says the Cypriot government is taking all precautions against the coronavirus threat, adding that the administration is on alert but there is no panic.
The minister, who spoke at a press conference on Monday, said state authorities in the Republic of Cyprus had updated and implemented public health protocols from the very beginning ahead of threat of a potential coronavirus spread on the island.
Ioannou told reporters that the health ministry had established procedures with the two international airports in Larnaca and Paphos, including setting up coordination plans between Civil Aviation and Law Enforcement.
The health minister also went on to say the Cypriot government went above and beyond instructions given by the World Health Organization, adding that officials were “screening every single passenger for whom we had information they were travelling originally from China and through other airports, even if they showed no symptoms or had no contact with a suspected or confirmed case in China.”
“From the very first moment, we enlisted areas that airports ought to have in order to host travelers who have been in close contact with a patient in a case of an epidemic, and these rooms will be used if and when it is deemed necessary in accordance with WHO instructions,” the minister said.
A designated area has been set in rural Nicosia where 'high risk' individuals due to close proximity with a potential confirmed carrier would need to be quarantined for 14 days
The comments came following media scrutiny over the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, when two suspected carriers in separate cases were quarantined and taken to hospital but later tested negative.
Last week, Kathimerini Cyprus, which is owned by the same media group that also owns Knews, reported on criticism from members of the medical community regarding the lack of special rooms at the airports. These areas could host airplane passengers who were in close proximity with a suspected coronavirus carrier until his or her tests come back a few hours later, critics argued.
“The objections in the medical community begin at the point where state authorities did not take into account the possibility that the tests might not have come back negative,” the report said.
Ioannou said a designated area has been found in rural Nicosia where cases could be handled if tests are found to be positive, adding that a confirmed case would mean that others considered “high risk” due to close proximity with the carrier would also need to be quarantined for 14 days.
“They may not have the symptoms, but they must be quarantined to eliminate the risk of infecting someone else but also they have to be monitored,” the minister said.
Other public health officials who spoke at the press conference said the risk of a coronavirus epidemic spreading throughout Europe is low, adding Cyprus is prepared to update its course of action in case of an epidemic or pandemic.
Experts say if an outbreak expands to a broader population, it becomes an epidemic, which describes the case with the novel coronavirus currently spreading in China and beyond.
The World Health Organization has declared coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern” but as scientists learn more about the virus, the prospect of a pandemic might look increasingly likely according to some medical professionals around the world.