The head of the government’s pandemic advisory committee says it is not up to health experts to justify political decisions such as tougher Safe Pass rules, but one of his colleagues defended tougher restrictions saying they had worked in the past during lockdown.
As chaos continues this week outside Cyprus’ local pharmacies, where unvaccinated persons stand in line for private rapid tests to qualify for a Safe Pass, social media users have been taking experts to task for their role in the latest decree that left many shops including supermarkets and bakeries out of reach for many unvaccinated people.
According to Constantinos Tsioutis, who heads a task force of health experts advising the government on the pandemic, the role of committee members was not to justify political decisions.
Tsioutis’ comment appeared on Facebook as a response to a question from the public about tougher Safe Pass rules, which apply across the board for the entire month of August with very few exceptions such as going to a small convenience store.
A Safe Pass requires people over the age of 12 to have in possession physical proof they have been vaccinated with at least one dose three weeks prior, tested negative for the coronavirus during a rapid or PCR test conducted in the last 72 hours, or officially cleared by state authorities no more than six months since the last time they tested positive for coronavirus. EUDCC and Cyprus Flight Pass documents are also accepted in lieu of a Safe Pass.
A Safe Pass was initially designed to designed to allow people more freedom of movement, such as going out to dine or have fun, but the measure was quickly expanded to cover shops where basic necessities were being sold, including supermarkets and later bakeries and some mini markets.
Based on the latest decree valid from 1 through 31 August, a previous number of 20 persons including employees who could gather at any time had changed to apply to places where up to 10 persons could gather, effectively shortening the list of stores accessible without a Safe Pass.
'These are the measures that were effective in the last period and this is the reason that the specific decision has been made'
People on social media cried foul over the measure, saying it was disproportionally disfavoring those who chose not to get vaccinated. The decree also allows rapid tests for unvaccinated persons only at private pharmacies and drug stores, where customers have to pay out of their own pocket every time and also stand in line in the hot sun.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela, who said it was time for the unvaccinated to pay for rapid tests until they choose to get vaccinated, responded this week saying “there is a pharmacy in every neighborhood corner and citizens can also get tested in labs.”
Social media user asks experts to explain logic
But a social media user asked the health experts to explain the very logic behind applying the Safe Pass rule across the board.
“Do you have any proof that the virus is being spread in convenience stores or bakeries?” the person asked, adding a second part to his question wondering “whether the rule is just a gimmick to torment people until they are forced to get vaccinated?”
A statement attributed to Tsioutis appeared Monday as a response, saying the specific webpage was set up to address concerns amongst the public and answer questions that involve scientific and medical issues.
Our role is not to justify political decisions
“As we have said repeatedly, our role is not to justify political decisions,” Tsioutis said.
But another member of the pandemic task force, Petros Karayiannis, gave a more direct response elsewhere to the same question.
Speaking to local media on Monday, Karayiannis said tougher Safe Pass rules were necessary.
“These are the measures that were effective in the last period and this is the reason that the specific decision has been made,” he said.
But Karayiannis was referring to the last time when Cypriot towns went into lockdown, with critics pointing out that this time there were many people roaming free with Safe Pass who could still be spreading the bug, including persons who were vaccinated.
Last month Karayiannis himself had suggested that many people who were infected might not know they carry the bug, reiterating that even vaccinated persons could get sick.
“We say this time and again that people who are vaccinated still need to wear the damn mask,” Karayiannis famously said.
But the professor also made headlines last month when he said that based on his own personal observations, people going to the supermarket did not follow guidelines such as wearing face masks properly, using hand sanitizer at the entrance, or keeping a safe distance from fellow shoppers.
Karayiannis did not clarify whether his observations were based in Nicosia, where he works as a university professor during the week or his weekend residence in Protaras where reports of health protocol violations were linked to young adults and high school graduates partying during the summer.
But on Monday the professor warned that Safe Pass was going to be part of daily life at least through the end of 2021, adding that a spike in the fall was still expected.