Lockdown and other measures in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak will be extended until April 30, with no exceptions to be made during the Orthodox Easter period, President Nicos Anastasiades said in his televised national address on Wednesday night.
The President addressed the nation to announce a series of additional measures that were agreed upon by the Cabinet which convened on Wednesday morning.
The measures that have been steadily ramped up by the government since coronavirus broke out on the island in early March appear to be effective, Anastasiades said, but warned that this is not the time for relaxation, nor by the government or by the public, as this would bring “catastrophic consequences.”
“One of the most important outcomes of the measures, was the eradication of cases imported from abroad,” the President said.
“But perhaps the harshest measure was the decision to deter thousands of students abroad from returning,” he said, adding that “the goal was none other than the protection of not only the students themselves, but also of the population as a whole from a potential unmanageable import and spread of new cases.”
According to President Anastasiades, during its meeting on Wednesday, the Cabinet decided on the following measures:
1. Extension of measures that have so far been announced by the Cabinet or by Ministers through decrees until April 30, with no exceptions to be made during the Easter celebrations.
2. Regarding the repatriation of Cyprus nationals, in addition to the categories already permitted to return to the island, the Cabinet agreed to gradually allow the return of those who fall under the following categories:
i. Those students who live in university dormitories and who are enrolled in preparatory or foundation courses taking place in the current academic year, as well as those students currently in their first year of an undergraduate degree.
Speaking after the President’s address, Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said that preparations have already been completed, and these students can begin returning to the island as soon as next week.
Also addressing this matter after the address, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that the number of students that the island will be able to accept will depend on the number of available quarantine facilities as well as on the students’ needs, stressing that Cyprus is able to receive around 1,000 persons per 15 days.
ii. Permanent residents of the Republic of Cyprus who are in foreign countries for temporary employment and whose employment has been suspended or terminated due to coronavirus.
iii. Permanent residents of the Republic of Cyprus who are in foreign countries and whose return is deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons, such as:
- The provision of care to persons who, due to a serious injury sustained after the enforcement of coronavirus decrees are unable to take care of themselves,
- Those who are recipients or donors of organs and have been asked to return for an urgent transplant, and
- Unaccompanied minors.
Also to be allowed to return to the Republic are those who, regardless of nationality, are needed due to their professional or scientific status to assist efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“I would like to emphasize that the decisions for the repatriation of the rest of our Cypriot compatriots abroad will be taken on the basis of the prevailing situation and the necessary opinion of the scientific consultants of the Government,” Anastasiades stressed.
3. As precautionary measures to combat the pandemic, it was also decided that:
(i) Targeted sampling tests will be conducted in all districts, as per the recommendations of the scientific experts assisting the government’s battle against the virus.
(ii) An additional 20,000 coronavirus tests will be conducted in the following 20 days involving those employees in the public and private sectors whose employment has not been suspended by the decrees issued by the Health Ministry, as well the National Guard.
The Health Minister added that an additional 800 people will be tested at random.
(iii) The testing of all those who, based on the gradual and controlled repatriation program, will return to Cyprus.
Economic support measures
According to the President, the Cabinet on Wednesday decided to extent the period during which the state will be providing support to businesses and employees until June 12, 2020.
“In addition, for a period of four months after the expiration of the above period, the state support of both employees and companies will continue on the basis of relevant criteria as detailed by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labor, Welfare and Social Security.”
The President urged the public to continue showing determination to bring the outbreak to a successful end.
“Cases are decreasing with each day that goes by, and we edge closer to the day that our lives return to normal,” Anastasiades said.
“This is why, I am anew asking everyone to stay home or in your shelters, and we will make it through this.”
Health Minister: 9 million masks ordered
Speaking in a panel participated by members of the Cabinet after the President’s address, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that Cyprus has received five tonnes of the drug chloroquine, while a treatment protocol for children and adults was approved some 10 days ago.
“We have acquired quantities that can treat 240,000 patients. The import will satisfy the needs of Israel and possible additional needs that may arise in Cyprus.”
He added that Cyprus is working on a crisis exit plan, but noted that the WHO has stressed that it is unwise at this moment to initiate any relaxation of restriction measures.
Ioannou also announced that the Health Ministry has launched efforts to procure 9 million masks, which come at a cost of €3 million.