NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus will reopen high schools, gyms, pools, dance academies and art galleries on March 1 in a further, incremental easing of the country’s second nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, the government said Thursday.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said easing the six-week-old lockdown should proceed “slowly, cautiously and in a controlled manner.” He warned that the situation could easily get out of hand again as the country’s infection rate remains slightly above safety limits set by the European Union’s disease prevention agency.
According to Ioannou, the number of infections now stands at 164.3 per 100,000 people.
Middle school students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 8, Ioannou said, signaling the reopening of all schools after weeks of online instruction. Primary schools are already holding in-person classes. But the minister made it clear that twice-daily excursions requiring SMS approval and a 9:00pm-5:00am curfew will remain in effect.
“We'll do without certain things for the next two or three months, some measures will carry on until there's (sufficient) vaccination coverage which is estimated to happen by June," Ioannou said.
A ban on public gatherings also continues to apply despite growing public fatigue that culminated with thousands demonstrating last weekend in the capital to protest the restrictions, alleged police heavy-handedness and corruption.
Police didn’t intervene in that protest, but used a water cannon, pepper spray and stun grenades to disperse a much smaller group of left-wing demonstrators a week earlier. One young woman required surgery for an eye injury following a blast from the water canon.
The force’s actions triggered a public outcry and prompted a probe to determine whether riot police used disproportionate force.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International urged Cypriot authorities to lift what it called “an unlawful and disproportionate blanket ban” on demonstrations.
Amnesty International Greece and Cyprus official Kondylia Gogou said police made “unnecessary and excessive use of force" during the earlier protest. She said the violence was also part of a “deeply worrying pattern" in Cyprus where “human rights are coming under sustained attack."