Cyprus Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced the new restrictions agreed upon by the Cabinet on Friday, which include a clampdown on unnecessary movements, and social and professional gatherings.
The new measures are set to come into effect at 5am on Sunday and remain in force until midnight of January 31, as part of a last-ditch effort on behalf of the government to slow down the rampant spread of coronavirus and prevent the collapse of the healthcare system that has in recent days been edging closer to its absolute limits.
Announcing the measures, Ioannou said that “basically, for the next three weeks, we have to stay at home, at our shelters, to curb the spread of the virus”.
The new measures will see an extension of current 9pm-5am curfew times, while social gatherings of any kind and at any location, public or private, indoor or outdoor, are prohibited, barring parks and beaches where a maximum of two people can be present for physical exercise purposes.
Additionally, the Cabinet agreed to reinstate the 8998 SMS system that was in place during the island’s previous total lockdown. Each person is entitled to two movements per day, given that they fall under the vital reasons set out by the government, such as going out to purchase essential items, absolute necessary visits to public services, going to the bank, to the pharmacy or doctor, to a religious ceremony such as a baptism, wedding or funeral, to help relatives unable to fend for themselves, to pick up children in the case of separated parents, or to exercise.
Movements for exercise purposes cannot exceed three hours, while residents of mainland areas are permitted to visit coastal towns for a swim, but residents of coastal areas cannot cross districts for exercise purposes.
People going out to take their pets for a walk (given that the walk remains within a 500m range from their home), to transfer children to and from kindergartens or day-care centres, or movements of the disabled or autistic people and their helpers are not required to send in a text to 8998.
While only permanent residents are permitted to be present in a private home, the current exception for caregivers, babysitters, domestic workers and employees such as electricians and plumbers will continue to apply.
The government also imposed mandatory remote work for the public and private sector, with only vital businesses and services to remain in operation. Among these are retail grocery businesses and the construction sector.
The new measures will therefore see barbershops and hairdressing salons, beauty and tattoo parlours, theatres, cinemas, casinos, betting shops and event halls shut their doors.
However, private services such as law, accounting, architectural, insurance, and other firms can remain in operation but must ensure that only 15% of staff are physically present at their offices, but with a cap at 20 people, with the rest to work from home.
Religious services will be conducted without a congregation, though the faithful will be permitted to enter religious spaces for personal prayer, given than safety guidelines are adhered to. Weddings, baptisms and funerals can take place with a maximum of 10 people in attendance.
Additionally, schools of all levels will be shifting to distance learning, while nurseries, kindergartens, pre-primary and special education schools remain in operation.
Professional first division championships will take place as planned without the presence of spectators. All other tournaments, as well as sports activities for people under 18, are suspended.
The Health Minister said that the measures will be accompanied by even more rigorous testing, in order to get a better sense of the situation, while the vaccination program will press on as planned.
With just two of the six available coronavirus vaccines so far approved by the European drugs regulator EMA, Ioannou said the rollout of the vaccination program is inevitably unfolding at a slower pace.
Ioannou said that “the second wave of the pandemic is much faster than the first, which scientists attribute to the new strain of the virus, which has also reached Cyprus. The rapid transmission of the virus is multiplying cases, resulting in higher numbers of cases requiring hospital treatment. The surge in patients and particularly those needing specialised treatment at ICUs is the crucial indicator shaping the decisions of all governments in all countries undergoing a healthcare crisis”.
“The measures we are taking today aim to lower this indicator to safe levels in order to be able to offer quality health services to those who need them.”
The Health Minister called on the public to exert every effort to support health professionals and to allow for some breathing room to the healthcare system, in order to protect the most vulnerable.