Bucking a global trend away from mandatory pandemic safety measures, Cyprus said on Wednesday that face masks would once again be required in indoor public settings.
The mandate, which will take effect Friday, applies to anyone aged 12 or older, with some exceptions. It was being reimposed because of a spike in new coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron subvariants known as BA. 4 and BA. 5, the authorities said.
The measure was announced by the health ministry of the internationally recognized government, the Republic of Cyprus, which controls most of the Mediterranean island, with about 1 million residents. About 250,000 Cypriots live in the breakaway northern part of the island, which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974.
The health ministry appealed to the public to take other precautions as well, including maintaining social distance and regularly disinfecting their hands, to curb the further spread of the virus.
According to figures from the ministry, 19,503 people in the republic tested positive between June 25 and July 5, with a positive rate of 13 percent. The average number of new cases reported daily has more than tripled in the last two weeks, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“The epidemiological development over the last few days raises the need to review the protective measures, as part of efforts to stop the spread of the virus and safeguard public health,” the ministry said in a statement.
The authorities said the mask mandate would be enforced with spot inspections and fines of up to 300 euros ($305) for violators. The mandate will not apply in private homes, nor in private vehicles when traveling only with family members, nor during the consumption of food or beverages. People exercising in gyms or dance schools will be exempt; so will cooks when they are grilling, and people with illnesses that make it difficult for them to wear face masks.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said the situation at Cypriot hospitals was “under control” now, and that there were no plans for additional measures beyond the mask mandate, though that may change if the situation worsens.