Cyprus adopts mass testing for virus hotspots

Aradippou (Cyprus) (AFP) –


A town in Cyprus that has become a coronavirus hotspot carried out mass testing Saturday as a climate of suspicion descended on the community amid fears the disease had spread unchecked for weeks.

Aradippou, a town of 25,000 inhabitants near Cyprus's southern coast, has reported 29 of the Mediterranean island's 426 official COVID-19 cases, according to its mayor Evangelos Evangelides.

But the actual number of infections is likely to be much higher, he told AFP.

"The people don't feel comfortable," Evangelides said. "They feel that everybody has the virus."

The health ministry has now mandated widespread testing to establish the scale of the outbreak.

"The scientists told us, you have to make tests. Test, test, test. So we're following this direction and by 4 o'clock today we will have made 500 tests," Evangelides said.

"We are starting with the people who are working on the first line -- that is supermarkets, all the shops that are still open -- and people who have had contact with positive people."

At a local testing centre in the otherwise deserted town, a long line of cars waited for health workers in protective gowns and masks to administer the tests to people remaining in their vehicles.

Police and workers present declined to be interviewed and asked media to leave, saying that residents were fearful of appearing on camera.

While Cyprus is not among the countries hardest hit by coronavirus, the government has imposed strict restrictions on movement until April 13 in the run-up to Greek Orthodox Easter.

The measures include a nighttime curfew and allowing people to leave their homes only once a day.

It has also banned all commercial flights to the island, usually a magnet for foreign tourists.

In Paphos, a city on the southwest coast where 61 coronavirus cases have been reported, authorities were also carrying out mass testing on Saturday.

Evangelides said he believed the virus had arrived in Aradippou early, before authorities imposed island-wide movement restrictions in late March, and had been unknowingly transmitted in the community.

"We think that the virus spread in these days, when we didn't know what was going on, and now after two or three weeks we have the situation that we have now."

On Saturday morning the mayor met members of the local municipal committee in a forest outside of town.

After difficulties holding meetings online, Evangelides said meeting outdoors was the only way to maintain safe social distancing.

But committee members were fearful of outsiders and asked AFP to leave. "We don't know you," said a man wearing a mask.