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The virus in Cyprus
The ever-evolving pandemic situation in the Republic of Cyprus
Beating a pandemic is like fighting the hydra, a mythical monster from Greek mythology. Cut off one head, and two more variants rise to take their place. (In that way, it’s fitting the variants are named after the Greek alphabet).
The international governmental panic over the new Omicron variant in time for the holidays has thrust COVID back into the headlines, launching a new wave of travel restrictions.
But the Republic of Cyprus has had an aggressive posture from the beginning. A global event generates global stories. When the history of COVID-19 is written, there will be different tales of the pandemic from all over the world. Here’s a quick look at how Cyprus has been handling the pandemic.
As was the case in much of North America and Europe, March 2020 unleashed a wave of lockdowns. On March 13, 2020, a nationwide lockdown began, and the borders closed to any visitors apart from Cypriots, European Union residents, and visitors with special permits for 15 days. A full lockdown followed, which continued until April 13.
As in other places, businesses and outdoor-seating restaurants gradually reopened with masked employees and limitations on gatherings. Flights resumed to Cyprus, but with a two-week self-quarantine period. A partial lockdown was enforced from November 30 to December 14, and during the “second wave,” a second full lockdown was enforced at the start of January 2021, to increased controversy and protests.
In May 2021, with the increasing accessibility of COVID vaccines, Cyprus opened up to foreign travelers, installing a “Cyprus Flight Pass” system that required uploaded proof of vaccination or negative tests within 48 hours of a Cyprus-bound flight.
On the island, restrictions in businesses remained fairly strict despite the re-opening. Mask-wearing and proof of vaccination or a negative test were required to enter businesses. Testing was offered at no-cost to residents, and in July 2021, when vaccination rates stalled, the government no longer offered free testing. Naturally, vaccination rates picked up from there.
Fall 2021: Barcode life
By the time I arrived in September 2021, the COVID-19 situation was fairly stable and restrictions remained aggressive vis-a-vis the United States. Masks were required pretty much everywhere, and I had to show proof of vaccination to enter any business. This meant carrying around my precious-and-cumbersome CDC vaccine card everywhere I went, highlighting the baffling inconvenience and limiting non-digitization of the American CDC card system.
Meanwhile Cyprus, along with the EU, keeps pushing forward with restrictions that would seem impossible to implement stateside.
In November 2021, the Republic of Cyprus announced that they would stop accepting foreign vaccine cards for residents of Cyprus, so I had to apply to get into the EU SafePass system. There’s an app on my phone with a bar code that I have to show to get into most big businesses or restaurants, that a COVID “bouncer” then scans. If my pass comes up “green” in the system, I’m in. If it’s “red,” I’m in trouble.
Outside tourist areas and in smaller neighborhoods, enforcement is more lax. But the widespread adoption and essentiality of the “vaccine passport” forms a sharp contrast with what’s going on stateside, where only a few municipalities and states have introduced vaccine passport policies, each with their own competing app and ensuing tales of controversy and protest from vaccine-skeptic groups.
Between September and November, crossings to the north (aka the territory considered occupied by Turkish forces and the self-declared, unrecognized “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”) were permitted with proof of vaccination, but now rapid tests are required to transit both sides.
An evolving situation
At the time of this writing, the line has shifted again. Starting December 18, a fully-vaccinated SafePass will become invalid seven months after the most recent vaccination. Only a booster shot, or rapid tests taken every 72 hours, can extend the life of the SafePass.
The glaring problem? Both the Cyprus CovPass and EU Digital Vaccination platforms apparently do not currently support displaying proof of a third shot, despite the fact that Cyprus is basically requiring a third shot to participate in society.
So it goes.
It will take years for the world to recover from the pandemic, and the panoply of responses show how hard this problem is to tackle. Cyprus’ aggressive response and the nature of a small island have seemingly paid off, keeping the pandemic mostly under control, albeit with the side effect of a whirlwind of sudden, byzantine measures.
This is the sixth post in The Cyprus Files, a limited-run newsletter series from The Usonian chronicling my Fulbright experiences in Cyprus. You can read all the posts in The Cyprus Files here. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a (free) dispatch from the island of Aphrodite!