Cyprus is ready to embrace the summer. In anticipation of rescuing what remains of the lucrative summer tourism season, the island nation lifted some of its harshest coronavirus-related restrictions three weeks ahead of schedule. The shortened timeline was based on the consistently low infection numbers that have been logged since Cyprus officially exited lockdown last month. On Tuesday Cyprus had logged a total of 988 coronavirus cases, and 19 fatalities.
The third phase of the gradual rollback of restrictions – including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people –ended on June 24 instead of the original July 14 date, according to Cypriot Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou.
Shopping malls, airports, indoor seating at hotels, bars, and restaurants, and open-air theatres and cinemas all re-opened on June 9. Sports events are back on schedule, albeit without spectators. In what is no doubt a relief to beleaguered parents, playgrounds, summer schools, and school canteens are all also in session. Meanwhile, indoor cinemas and theatres will only re-open in August, while music concerts, festivals, weddings, and graduation ceremonies must wait until September 1.
Resuming Foreign Tourism
Tourism makes up more than 13 percent of Cyprus’ GDP, and moving up the re-opening timeline is critical to capturing that lucrative market during the busiest tourist season of the year. And yet, as of now, according to Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios, only a tenth of the country’s 700 hotel units have reopened their doors.
Commercial flights to Cyprus resumed on June 9 and only from a list of “Type A” countries that have successfully suppressed the coronavirus numbers within their borders, including Germany, Finland, Greece, and Austria, along with 18 other countries, with travellers within this category currently facing no restrictions upon entry. On June 20, Cyprus moved on to the next phase of its tourism aperture strategy welcoming travellers from “Type B” countries, such as France, Spain, Italy, and Israel. However, travellers from these 12 “potentially low-risk countries but with greater doubt compared to Group A” are required to have a PCR test done at their country of origin 72 hours prior to travel, which must be requested before boarding as well as upon arrival.
Still in place is an entry ban on citizens from the UK and the U.S.– countries that are still experiencing a high number of infections and deaths from Covid-19. Only Cypriots and Europeans working in Cyprus, along with individuals possessing specific permits, are exempt from this ban.
In a somewhat surprising turnabout, Israel was bumped down from category A to B, throwing a wrench in previously discussed plans for a “coronavirus corridor” with Greece and Cyprus to revive the struggling tourism economy in all three nations. The change in status is due to the sudden spike in morbidity after Israel came out of lockdown, totalling 308 deaths and counting. In what appears to be a rapidly building second wave, Israel has already enforced a second lockdown across a number of cities.
As a result, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back resuming flights and opening Israel for tourism to August 1. In a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Netanyahu announced “We are looking now into reopening tourism, in which case Greece and Cyprus will be the first.”
This holdup may also contribute to a further delay in the reopening of hotels in Cyprus, as many guests come from nearby Israel. “Hoteliers are thinking twice over opening their units in July because there are no reservations. Tourists from Israel will only be coming for a three or four-day holiday,” said chairman of the Cyprus Hoteliers Association’s (CHA) Famagusta branch, Doros Takas, according to the Financial Mirror. What seems clear is that 2020 is set to be one of the most difficult years for the industry.
Pay to Play
In order to encourage reluctant tourists to travel, the Cypriot government has promised to cover all costs for anyone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus whilst on vacation. The pledge covers lodging, food, drink and medication for all patients and their families. The only cost to the sick travellers is travel to and from Cyprus, including the ride to the airport and the cost of the flight itself.
To prepare for sick tourists on their shores, the island nation has opened up a “COVID-19 hospital” with 100 beds set aside exclusively for foreign visitors who contract the virus, and additional beds are available if necessary. If travellers show critical symptoms, 12 intensive care units with 200 respirators areon hand. In addition, 500 rooms have been set aside in dedicated “quarantine hotels” for anyone who was in close contact to the sick individual, with more rooms obtainable if needed. Any accommodations used by a sick individual will be deep-cleaned after use so that the virus does not spread.
“This will not only ensure that they are properly taken care of, but it will also provide peace of mind to other travellers, that their accommodation is free of Covid-19,” the Cypriot government said in a letter to its tourism partners.