Cyprus is one step away from lockdown but the effort is to avoid it at all costs, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Thursday.
“We are at a breaking point. It might be a matter of days for the situation to get out of control,” Ioannou told the Cybc.
Following the announcement of stricter measures by the health ministry this week, banning house visits, which will remain in force until January 10 together with a 9pm curfew nationwide, Ioannou said there are no more measures left to impose before a blanket lockdown.
“The next step will be a lockdown if the situation becomes that concerning that we are left without any choice,” the minister warned.
During the last few days, there was an increase on the cases due to the gatherings over the holidays, despite the ban on meetings of more than ten people indoors. “The percentage of those testing positive doubled,” Ioannou said. This was likely due to the number of tests being tripled in the past week.
The increase in cases was recorded as a large percentage of the public took advantage of the relaxation where they were still allowed to hold gatherings of up to ten people
The “abuse” of the measure led the minister to ban house visits altogether on Monday.
“The first thing that concerns us is public health and not the economy. People must understand and abide by the measures,” the minister added.
His statements came after a member of the government’s advisory team, Assistant Professor of Pathology at the European University specialising in Infection Control Constantinos Tsioutis reiterated that lockdown should be the last resort as it would raise epidemiological expectations and negatively affect the economy and society and the mental health of the public.
“With a lockdown the targets change,” he said. Any improvement as a result of lockdown would be slow to materialise, according to the professor.
Tsioutis said the island’s situation remained critical and estimated that January would see more cases.
“We know from an epidemiological point of view that January will be the worst month not only for us but for the whole of Europe,” he said.
Explaining why the second wave hit countries worse than the first, Tsioutis said that partly was due to ‘pandemic fatigue’ among populations, which resulted in people not abiding by the measures plus winter conditions that force more people indoors where the virus spread more easily.
The holidays are a high-risk factor, according to the ministry’s advisor. “Many people are now self-isolating because on Christmas day they came in contact with positive cases,” he said.
Vaccines arrived and brought some hope to the island last week, but it will take several months “until a certain percent of the population is vaccinated and immunised,” Tsioutis added.
The high number of cases also corresponds with increases in hospitalisations, which pressures the health system and leads to more deaths, “not only of the elderly but also people with chronic health problems,” Tsioutis added.
“Those being treated now are people who contracted the virus a week or two or three weeks ago. Unfortunately, the clinical course of the virus is such that when someone is hospitalised, they have to stay for several days increasing pressure on intensive care units, where beds and the staff are limited,” he explained.
Urging people to abide by the health ministry’s guidelines, Tsioutis said: “We all know how we can avoid transmission, how we can protect ourselves and those around us. And that should be the main message of the day, that the measures should be implemented to see an improvement in the epidemiological picture,” he said.