People gather at Mackenzie beach in the coastal city of Larnaca on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on May 23, 2020. (AFP/Etienne Torbey)
Cyprus decided Friday to welcome tourists from Britain, its largest market, from Aug. 1 if that country’s coronavirus outbreak remains on a downward trend.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said Britain would fall into a higher risk band of countries from which arrivals need to provide a negative COVID-19 test.
"Data regarding the UK has prompted us to decide that if the same good epidemiological picture continues to be observed, as of 1 August the country will be placed in Category B," Ioannou told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
There has been pressure from hotels and other tourism stakeholders to give a firm date for when British visitors can return to the Mediterranean holiday island, as UK arrivals make up 33 percent of all tourists.
But Russia and Israel –- the island’s second and third-biggest tourist markets –- are not on the European Union’s 15 "safe" destinations list.
"Israel was not included in the list of 15 countries deemed safe by the European Union to allow entry, so there is no question that tourists will be coming from Israel," said Ioannou.
“Russia's epidemiological data is such that at this stage, it stays in Category C," the minister added.
The EU member state had been banking on Israeli tourists to revive its battered tourism sector, as it was considered low risk when Cyprus airports reopened in June.
"Unfortunately, this year everything is fluid, as the (COVID-19) situation is constantly changing," said Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios.
Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with a transmission rate of below one.
It allows tourists from 22 countries, including Germany, Greece and Austria, that are considered low risk to enter without a COVID-19 health certificate.
Another band of 13 Category B countries, including France and Spain, have only been allowed entry with proof they have tested negative up to 72 hours before arrival.
There are no regular flights from countries that fall outside these two categories.
Arrivals from countries not on the approved lists must self-isolate for 14 days in Cyprus.
Cyprus updates the list of approved countries weekly based on the scientific data.
There are also temperature checks and random testing of travelers, free of charge when they arrive.
To attract tourists, the government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for coronavirus while on holiday on the island.
Authorities estimate that tourist arrivals this year, which had been projected at four million, will fall by as much as 70 percent, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which generates some 15 percent of GDP.
Cyprus has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe, having tested around 12 percent of its population.
The Republic of Cyprus has declared 999 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths since its first cases in March, after which it quickly went into a two-month-long lockdown.
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