Cyprus includes bars, cinemas in virus mass gathering ban

Nicosia (AFP) –


Cyprus on Wednesday banned indoor gatherings of more than 75 people, including at bars and cinemas, as the number of novel coronavirus cases on the island jumped to seven.

Authorities in the Republic of Cyprus reported four more cases of COVID-19, including two who were identified arriving at Larnaca airport from Britain on Tuesday evening.

"They were transferred to a special unit at Nicosia General Hospital where they are being treated," the health ministry said in a statement.

A third new infected individual was quarantined in Limassol General Hospital after reporting a fever and the fourth fresh case was already in self-isolation when symptoms appeared.

The ministry said officials were now tracing people the infected cases had been in contact with.

The ministry issued a decree Wednesday extending a ban on gatherings over 75 people to theatres, restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlours and other venues.

The Cyprus association of entertainment and leisure establishments called the decision "hasty", saying businesses would suffer financially.

Cyprus had said Tuesday it was closing schools in the capital from Wednesday, banning mass gatherings -- including parades and at football games. It has also locked down two major hospitals to try and stop the spread of the virus.

Supermarkets and shopping malls will remain open but weddings and church services will be limited to 75 people.

Cyprus reported its first two cases of the disease on Monday, including the chief heart surgeon at its biggest hospital.

On Tuesday, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus announced its own first case, a 65-year-old German woman.

The Mediterranean island is divided between EU member state the Republic of Cyprus and the northern third controlled by the TRNC, recognised only by Ankara.

Fears of coronavirus have exacerbated friction on the divided island, with angry protests on Saturday against the closure of crossings on the ceasefire line.

The Republic of Cyprus initially closed four of the eight crossing points for a week but on Tuesday Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced this closure was extended until March 18.

Nicosia General Hospital is operating with a limited service while undergoing a "deep clean", after the facility's head of heart surgery tested positive for COVID-19 following a trip to Britain.

Limassol General Hospital, the country's second-largest public health facility, also suspended operations for 48 hours from Wednesday to investigate three suspected coronavirus cases.

One of the suspected cases had come into contact with the infected Nicosia hospital heart surgeon, a health official told Cyprus News Agency.

The tourist who tested positive for coronavirus in the TRNC arrived on the island from Balingen in Germany on Sunday, authorities in the north said.

She was among a 30-member tourist group staying at a hotel in the coastal city of Famagusta, Turkish Cypriot health minister Ali Pilli told reporters.

The woman was quarantined in a north Nicosia hospital after complaining of high fever and the hotel was locked down, he added.