Cyprus sets the stage for the recovery of tourism with the reopening of airports

NICOSIA: Cyprus will reopen for international tourism on Tuesday, with airports welcoming back visitors after a nearly three-month closure and a bold plan to cover healthcare costs for visitors.

But with arrivals expected to drop by 70 percent this year due to the chaos wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a leap of faith for the tiny Mediterranean vacation island.

“No one here expects to make money this year,” Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said. “We are setting the stage for the start of our recovery in 2021.”

The divided island’s tourism sector normally accounts for about 15 percent of gross domestic product, but it has dried up in recent months amid global measures to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Cyprus recorded a record 3.97 million arrivals in 2019, with more than half of its market made up of British and Russian visitors.

But even if the island’s airports at Larnaca and Paphos open to arrivals on Tuesday, and the first flight will arrive from Athens around noon, neither Britain nor Russia are among the 19 countries allowed to land there.

The list of permitted countries, which also includes Bulgaria, Germany and Malta, was chosen based on epidemiological data and divided into two categories.

Initially, all travelers will need to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel, but as of June 20, only those arriving from six countries in the second category, such as Poland and Romania, will need to do so. .

The government says the lists will be reviewed weekly and more countries may be added.

Cyprus will also cover accommodation, meals and medical care for any tourist who falls ill with COVID-19 during their stay, as well as accommodation and meals for their family members and close contacts.

“What we offer and what we sell is not the sun and the sea, it is hospitality, and this is an extension of our hospitality,” said Perdios.

The government has designated a 100-bed COVID-19 hospital for tourists that Perdios said would be located in the Larnaca region, while 112 ICU units have been allocated for visitors.

Perdios said several four-star hotels would provide 500 quarantine rooms for close contacts of those who fall ill.

A host of other health measures, including disinfection protocols and temperature checks at border checkpoints, are aimed at protecting travelers and locals alike.

“We’ve done our best to think ahead of time about things that could go wrong and try to come up with plan Bs and Cs,” Perdios said.

The Republic of Cyprus, in the south of the island, has registered 960 new cases of coronavirus and 17 deaths.

Perdios expressed hope that British tourists could be received “sometime after mid-July”, with Russia “a little later, maybe in a couple of weeks”.

A recently announced agreement with the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air to open a base in Cyprus from July was also an important step towards expanding and diversifying the island’s tourism markets, he said.

While no date has been set for allowing international tourists to visit the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognized by Ankara, the health care pledge would still apply to those visiting the north during their stay once it is cleared. reopen crossings.

“I am very confident that we will not only be able to continue to provide protection for our citizens, but also take care of everyone who comes to the island for vacation,” he said.

“If we put forward a scheme like this, it’s because we can afford it, but more importantly, because we feel it’s the right thing to do.”

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