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Splendid isolation



AFP Photo.

AYIA NAPA, Cyprus (AFP) — Enjoying the loosening of a six-week coronavirus lockdown in Cyprus, Michalis Eveledis charged across pristine white sand and plunged headlong into the cool Mediterranean under a glaring sun.

“I am very glad to visit my beach and swim for the first time this year,” the 39-year-old resident of Ayia Napa — usually a magnet for foreign tourists but now deserted — said with a big grin.

The government this week began allowing people into the sea for the first time since March and permitted them to leave their homes up to three times, instead of just once, per day.

Cyprus is one of a clutch of normally highly open island nations — including Iceland, Malta and New Zealand — that have lately started easing, or are poised to ease, measures restricting internal movement.

All these nations have — so far, at least — scored impressively in containing the virus’ spread.

The Republic of Cyprus imposed a ban on most incoming passenger flights from 21 March, after schools had been ordered shut and larger indoor gatherings banned on 11 March, ahead of a curfew imposed late that month.

It seems to have worked: declared coronavirus fatalities stood at just 15 as the government eased its lockdown on Monday.

This puts the country in the top seven performing EU nations for coronavirus deaths as a proportion of the population, according to declared data collated by AFP.

And Cyprus is in the top ten countries worldwide for coronavirus screening tests as a proportion of its population, figures compiled by demographic data provider Worldometer show.

Iceland ranks best in the world among nation states on that metric, while Malta places fourth globally.

Malta also boasts the EU’s third lowest death-to-population ratio for the virus.

Helped by an exceptionally low population density, Iceland never imposed a lockdown.

Instead, it issued non-binding restrictions and guidance limiting the size of gatherings — initially to 20, but increased to 50 as of Monday.

Kjartan Hreinn Njalsson, assistant to the Director of Health, is unequivocal about how Iceland arrested the spread of the virus.

“Contact tracing, early detection of cases, quarantine, isolation and proper personal hygiene,” he said.

“These guidelines matter whether you are in Cyprus, whether you are in Iceland or whether you are in France.”

But Njalsson also acknowledged that smaller countries have had an advantage over their more populous peers.

“It helps a lot when it comes to mobilizing and getting people to work with you. We are just 360,000 people, which… gives us an opportunity to build a sense of community around these actions.”

If Cyprus manages to continue its effective suppression of the virus — by no means fully guaranteed, as social interactions increase from this week — it will remain extremely hard to open up to much of the rest of the world.

This brings major implications for the crucial tourism sector, a key component also of Malta’s and Iceland’s economies.