Cyprus announces phased easing of virus lockdown

Nicosia (AFP) –


Cyprus revealed a plan Wednesday to gradually ease coronavirus lockdown measures and reboot the Mediterranean holiday island's economy.

The Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the divided island, had imposed strict measures soon after its first COVID-19 cases were confirmed on March 9.

President Nicos Anastasiades announced that some of the emergency regulations would be eased from May 4 and further lifted in stages, on the advice of health experts wary of a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

"The distance we have to travel, unfortunately, remains great," Anastasiades said in a televised address after a cabinet meeting.

"Nevertheless, the progress that continues to be made allows us to implement the first phases for a gradual easing of restrictive measures," he added.

The first phase will see the reopening of the key construction sector, as well as retailers and markets, though shopping malls will remain closed.

The public sector will go back to work, but under strict social distancing rules. Parks, marinas and playgrounds will remain closed until the second phase.

Under the lockdown measures, Cyprus residents were only permitted to leave the house once a day for limited purposes, and needed to obtain government permission via SMS for each trip.

From Monday they will be allowed three outings per day, Anastasiades said.

A night-time curfew will remain in place, but the start time will be pushed an hour later to 10:00 pm (1900 GMT).

From May 21, all movement restrictions will be lifted, Anastasiades added.

Open-air restaurants, cafes and bars will also reopen from May 21, as will barber shops, hair salons and beauty parlours.

Students in their final year of secondary school at state-run and private schools are set to return to class from May 11.

Cypriots will again be allowed to visit the island's many beaches from June 1.

A ban on gathering at places of worship, which had been in place during Greek Orthodox Easter in mid-April, will also be eased.

Groups of fewer than ten people will be permitted in places of worship from Monday and religious services opened to the public from June 1.

The plan did not mention the reopening of airports and hotels.

A commercial flight ban has been imposed until mid-May, with only Cypriot citizens and residents allowed to enter the country and facing quarantine on arrival.

Seaports will operate again from June 1, but passengers will not be able to disembark from cruise ships.

The Republic of Cyprus has recorded 843 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 15 deaths, since early March.

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has reported 108 cases, including four deaths.