Cyprus Health Minister, Constantinos Ioannou, announced on Wednesday the gradual de-escalation of restrictive measures aiming at containing the spread of COVID-19. As of February 1, barbershops, hair salons and beauty salons  will re-open, there will be an increase from 25% to 50% of the percentage of personnel who may have a physical presence in private service businesses, without a minimum and maximum number of people, while house gatherings will be prohibited but with the exception of up to two persons visiting, provided they are 1st and 2nd degree relatives.

From February 8, the following will enter into force: re-opening of public and private primary schools, re-opening of retail shops, including department stores and shopping centres, re-opening of betting shops, only for the purpose of completing the voucher, without the use of tables and seating arrangements, re-opening of museums and other archaeological sites, the Divine Liturgy in places of religious worship may be held with the presence of congregants with a maximum number of persons up to 50 people, in compliance with the health protocols and there will be an increase of the number of people in house gatherings, to four persons visiting.

Speaking during a press conference, Ioannou stressed that “the de-escalation steps will be gradual, coordinated and controlled, so that the epidemiological situation can be monitored and the possibility of epidemiological deterioration reduced. Decisions are taken not only on the basis of a reduction in the number of cases, but also take into consideration other epidemiological indicators such as the situation in hospitals, which remains quite difficult.”

“Our goal is to continue to see a decrease in the number of hospitalized persons in relation to the reduction of cases, while our attention focuses on people who are hospitalized in a serious condition in High Dependency Units and Intensive Care Units,” he added.

He went on to say that in addition to the epidemiological picture, the action plan for the gradual lifting of restrictive measures that has been developed takes into account the threefold consideration “test – vaccinations – strict surveillance of the measures”, without ignoring recommendations for alertness to concerns at European level about the aggressive spread and transmission of the new strain of the virus, as well as developments in vaccination issues.

“Based on the above parameters, we want to avoid hasty high-risk moves that will undermine the effort to relaunch, as quickly as possible, social and economic activity in order to return quickly but safely to normal conditions,” Ioannou underlined noting that the Council of Ministers decided  to lift measures for the period 1-15 February after analyzing the epidemiological data and evaluating the relevant, and after hearing the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee and the proposals of the technical committee from the relevant Ministries.

Moreover, Ioannou said that “using the rapid test tool, and in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in workplaces and in the general population, the Ministry of Health has designed a targeted control plan of rapid testing in the workplace for all groups of employees who will be reactivated.”

In particular, on the basis of the strategy, employees returning to their workplace will undergo a rapid test, which will be provided free of charge by the Ministry of Health through the test units. Therefore from Thursday and until Sunday, a testing programme will be implemented for all workers employed in hair salons, barbershops and beauty salons, who will be reactivated as of Monday, February 1st.

At the same time, as of 1 February, the mandatory weekly check through rapid test of 20% of staff working in operating businesses takes effect. In particular, 20% of their employees should have a rapid test at any time and on a weekly basis. In order to achieve this objective, employees will be able to go for a test to the Ministry of Health Testing Points as of Thursday.

Ioannou also said that “despite the delay in the supply of vaccines, we are optimistic that we will cover the lost ground as we have ordered far more vaccines than those corresponding to the population of Cyprus.”

According to the Minister, “the interest in being vaccinated in our country has surpassed initial assessments and this makes us content. Our goal is to have completed the vaccination of people over the age of 80 as well as frontline health workers by the beginning of March, and by the end of March, in line to the plan, to have vaccinated 100,000 of our fellow citizens.”

“In this way, we will unburden and at the same time shield the Health System, protecting our fellow citizens who have an increased risk of serious illness and hospitalization. The vaccination shielding of a critical group of the population will allow us to continue the de-escalation plan with more confidence and safety,” Ioannou said.

Asked about recent announcements by AstraZeneca for a delay in the delivery of vaccines, Ioannou said that he shared the views of the EU Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, on the issue, stressing that action needs to be taken so that Europe will be treated as all other countries as regards the delivery of vaccines, “because it sounds a bit strange to have a problem only as regards the deliveries for Europe, while there is no problem as regards other countries, for example England.”

Replying to another question, Ioannou said that after the de-escalation of measures there might be an increase of the COVID-19 cases as happened in Malta, noting that their aim is to monitor the situation and maintain a low percentage of positivity through the tests that will be carried out.

On his part, the head of the Advisory Scientific Committee on COVID-19 Dr. Constantinos Tsioutis said that they are worried by the new virus variant, and stressed the need for people to strictly implement the measures provided in the relevant protocols.

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