Cyprus ends virus lockdown but airports stay shut
Cyprus' Education, Culture, Sport, and Youth Minister Prodromos Prodromou partially wearing a face mask walks into a classroom while visiting a school in the capital Nicosia. AFP
The Cypriot government ended a strict coronavirus lockdown Thursday, reopening outdoor restaurants, barber shops and beaches, but keeping the Mediterranean resort island's vital airports and hotels closed for now.
After two months of living in self-isolation, Cypriots are allowed to move around freely again. Some 32,000 more people went back to work as part of the government's second stage out of lockdown. Thousands of children returned to the classroom as state-run schools resumed most classes.
Since mid-March people could only go outside for exercise and essential trips which needed to be approved by text message while a curfew was enforced every night. Cyprus activated the second stage of its draft timetable for ending the lockdown after the the daily number of new infections remained in single figures throughout the first three weeks of May.
Virologist Dr Leontios Kostrikis, who is a member of the health ministry's epidemiological monitoring unit, said he was "very satisfied" with the figures so far. Announcing four new infections in the previous 24 hours on Wednesday evening, Kostrikis said Cyprus was entering a watershed moment in its fight against the coronavirus.
"The second stage is a make or break point for a full return to normalcy and for this reason we kindly ask you to keep up the good work with the same determination so that we are not forced to take backward steps," Kostrikis told reporters.
Due to the better than expected figures, the government has also decided to allow Cypriots access to organised beaches from 23 May, rather than June 1 as planned. At present only swimming is allowed not sunbathing or any other leisure activity. Parks and public spaces have also reopened but not children's playgrounds. Church services and other forms of religious worship will also be allowed to resume from May 23 instead of June.
Still no flights
But the island's two international airports in Larnaca and Paphos remain firmly shut for now, as do the crossing points to the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north of the island. The tourism sector makes up a key part of the Cyprus economy and the government has been under heavy pressure to reopen airports and hotels before the peak summer season.
The government has said it hopes to reopen airports gradually from mid-June with hotels to reopen two weeks after that. But it has yet to issue any health protocols on how they will operate. Gyms and indoor bars and restaurants will also remain shut until the third phase out of lockdown scheduled to start from June 9.
The government has said crossing points through the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the government-controlled south from the breakaway north will not reopen before next month. Their closure has prevented thousands of Turkish Cypriots from reaching work in the south and sparked Turkish Cypriot demonstrations.
Since the first case on March 9, the Cyprus government has confirmed 922 coronavirus infections and 17 deaths, including in the island's British sovereign base areas. Turkish Cypriot authorities have confirmed 108 cases and four deaths.