Here’s what I think: How Cyprus got it right on the coronavirus

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Here's what I think: How Cyprus got it right on the coronavirus 1

In the fifteen months I’ve been writing this column, it has often become a place where I call out and criticise those in power for the errors of their ways. Living in a place like Cyprus, it has seldom been difficult to find things that politicians and governments are doing wrong, but at long last, on what is in all probability the defining issue of the year, Cyprus has got it almost bang on, and should serve as an example to the rest of the world.

Here's what I think: How Cyprus got it right on the coronavirus 2
Tom Cleaver

For those not in the know, Cyprus’ response to the coronavirus crisis has been nigh on exemplary. For the avoidance of doubt, when referring to Cyprus I am referring of course to both sides, both governments, and all the people who live on the island. While there are of course small circumstantial differences between the north and the south, the timeline of events and the measures taken on both sides are largely the same, as are the frankly positive results.

So, how did a small and normally politically dysfunctional island end up performing so well in a global pandemic which has seen thousands upon thousands die in large superpower nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom? The answer lies in swift and decisive action. I will be the first to admit that earlier on this spring I did not think that the coronavirus would prove to be the year-defining issue that it now is, but those in power in Cyprus acted pre-emptively, and made decisions which have doubtless saved countless lives.

The first confirmed coronavirus case on the island was on 9th March. Within 48 hours universities were closing their doors – the Eastern Mediterranean University struck first, and was followed a few hours later by the University of Cyprus. Social distancing measures were mandated, culminating in full lockdowns on both sides of the island before the end of the month and SMS-based systems for tracking who was going where, for what purpose, and when.

One in every fifteen people was tested

Tourists on the island were repatriated from whence they came – in the early days I remember walking around a near-deserted capital city and watching what felt like flight after flight depart from Ercan Airport over my head. Once those flights had departed, very little came in the other way. All three of the island’s airports have now long been closed to anything but freight and repatriation flights of our own. All repatriated citizens were committed to two weeks’ quarantine. There was a slight hiccup with this for some Turkish Cypriot students who were quarantined in frankly unsuitable accommodation, but aside from that there were very few bumps in the road in this respect.

In addition to the lockdown, both sides also committed to an expansive testing programme. At time of writing, over 100.000 peopl island-wide have been tested for the coronavirus – about one in every fifteen people. To put that into perspective, in order to reach a similar percentage of the population tested, the United Kingdom would have had to have tested about 150.000 people every day in April, rather than the 100.000 per day target that they set and missed.

Of those tests, just over a thousand have come back positive thus far, with only twenty deaths – a rate of one coronavirus death about every three days. The evidence provided by other countries suggests that through the actions that the governments of Cyprus have taken, countless lives on the island have been saved. In normal political circumstances, I am no fan of either of Cyprus’ governments – north or south – but faced with a crisis such as this one, both governments must be commended.

The people’s maturity has undoubtedly saved many lives

In addition, the responsible and conscientious manner in which the vast majority of people across the island have conducted themselves is also worthy of great acclaim. Their maturity at the outset of the crisis is one of the driving reasons why it is passing comparatively quickly, and with many lives undoubtedly saved.

Don’t get me wrong, the coronavirus saga is not yet over in Cyprus. The next steps will be crucial, both in terms of preventing a second wave of the virus gripping the nation, and also in the steps that the island will take to open itself up, both internally (including the crossing points which lamentably a week after my last article are still closed), and externally, as potentially infectious tourists will doubtless begin to arrive on our shores.

Finally, what this crisis has proven to us is that when nationalist rhetoric is stripped away, Cyprus is more than capable of getting things right, and of standing on its own two feet. This, more than anything else, is what we should take away from this crisis when it is over.

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