The premature opening of big but unsafe tourist markets for the sake of reviving tourism is out of the question, Cypriot Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Friday.
In reply to pressure from hoteliers and tourist businesses for the re-classification of countries, Ioannou told state radio Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation that prematurely opening big markets, such as that of Britain and Russia, would quickly lead to a second wave of coronavirus infections, which would tarnish the good epidemiological image of Cyprus in only a few days.
Most of the new COVID-19 cases announced by health authorities over the past several days have been related to travelers.
When five new cases were announced, the health ministry said in a statement on Thursday that it was concerned over the appearance of COVID-19 cases whose origin was impossible to trace in communities.
Ioannou dismissed suggestions that tourists from high-risk countries could be screened by mass testing on entry at the airports.
“Just imagine what would happen even if only a few travelers tested positive, even five, each day. Quarantine facilities and hospitals would be filled in no time at all,” Ioannou said.
Ioannou said that Britain, the biggest tourist market for Cyprus, will be classified in Group B on Aug. 1, meaning that travelers would need a certificate for a negative coronavirus test. Russia, the second biggest tourist provider, is still in Group C, which includes all countries from where flights are not allowed to enter European Union (EU) countries.
However, Petros Karayiannis, a professor who specializes in epidemiology and one of the scientists advising the health ministry, said that if Britain’s current good record continues for some more days, it could be possible to reclassify the country in Group A after the first week of August.
The Cypriot Tourism Ministry was forced to cut its estimates for tourist arrivals in August by half to just 100,000 or 18 percent of arrivals in August last year.
But Philokypros Roussounides, director of the hoteliers’ association, said that the projection, even if revised, is too high.
Roussounides said his assessment was based on the fact that it would take two to three weeks for tour operators to start sending groups to Cyprus from the moment when travel with Britain is liberalized.
A poor August would drag down the next three months, resulting in a deeper recession of the economy, he said, given the fact that tourism contributes 21 percent to Cyprus’ gross domestic product.