Nov 2, 2020 11:32 am Ibrar Younas 8209
Visitors will be allowed to isolate at home under new pilot scheme


Taken from this weeks issue


By KEREM HASAN / Chief Reporter 

QUARANTINE in hotels and other centres could be scrapped and daily flight numbers increased if a pilot electronic tagging scheme is successful, Health Minister Ali Pilli has announced.

A total of 250 people arriving in the TRNC by air will be selected for the project from Monday onwards, Dr Pilli told Cyprus Today.

They will be tagged with an electronic “wristband” and allowed to spend quarantine in their own homes rather than at centres designated by the state. The wristband will alert the authorities if the person leaves their home during the quarantine period.

It was unclear last night exactly how the pilot scheme will be operated and who will be chosen to take part in it. The Health Ministry did not respond to questions yesterday from this paper.

Under the current Covid-19 rules people coming from “Category B” countries, including the UK and Turkey, must spend seven days in quarantine, unless they are staying for three days or less, while those from “Category C” countries have to spend 14 days in quarantine.

However the government is keen to move away from hoarding people into hotels and student dormitories due to the cost to the state.

A logistical nightmare in allocating arrivals to quarantine centres led to the temporary suspension of inbound flights in September, before daily limits were imposed on the number of flights and passengers.

Those placed in quarantine have flooded social media with complaints ranging from issues such as the quality of food to a lack of bed sheets.

“We cannot continue to pay for the quarantine centres as it is a burden on the state,” Dr Pilli told Cyprus Today this week. 

“[We will] start testing the wristband system on 250 people . . . in the first stage on Monday. This will allow us to see how effective the system is operating in tracking people who are under self-quarantine.

“It is our hope that . . . this will also allow us to increase the number of flights to the country. “I understand that people are anxious about going to a quarantine centre. We have received many complaints. Please understand that we are trying to protect the health of the public, while at the same time making it easier for people to come [to North Cyprus].

“We are hoping that this wristband project works and that people will have plenty of confidence to be able to come for Christmas and the New Year.” 

Earlier this month we reported how researchers at Near East University (NEU) had developed their own electronic tag for quarantine.

Dr Pilli, however, refused to confirm if the wristband being used for the Health Ministry pilot was the one produced by NEU or by another company.

Commenting on the announcement, Cyprus Turkish Hoteliers’ Union head Dimağ Çağıner said: “This is a step in the right direction to making our society safer, but it will only work if the number of flights are also increased because there aren’t really many tourists coming here.

“At present, there are two flights [a day] to [Ercan] airport. For this to work there needs to be more than three flights from İstanbul and more flights from Ankara. It is not just about tagging people, it is about providing confidence to people and increasing the number of tourists visiting North Cyprus.”

Cyprus Turkish Travel Agents’ Union head Orhan Tolun said that people should not be made to feel like “criminals” if they are electronically tagged: “At present, a tourist who is coming from a category B country for not more than three days is not required to undergo a quarantine period and is only obliged to have two [negative] PCR tests.

“However, I am concerned as to how this system is going to operate, and which authority is going to be responsible for enforcing it.

“How are people going to be penalised if they offend? I don’t think people will mind wearing a wristband for tracking purposes because they know that it is for health [purposes], they should not feel like criminals. Aren’t tags and the like worn for other holiday destinations for identification purposes?”

Mr Tolun said he was “more concerned that air fares to North Cyprus have exceeded 4,000TL for flights from the UK”.

“How can a family of four be expected to pay [nearly] 20,000TL to fly to North Cyprus?” he said. “We urgently need more flights to bring down prices.” 

British Residents Society chairman Peter Wilkins said the electronic wristband move was a “positive” development.

“Having a wristband will save people from being away from their families and homes, and will give them confidence . . . and cut costs. 

“The government is responding to the calls from the public – Turkish Cypriots and expats alike – to be allowed to self-quarantine in their own homes.”

Meanwhile the British government announced on Thursday that it had added “Cyprus” to its quarantine list.

Travellers returning to the UK from “Cyprus” from 4am GMT tomorrow must self-isolate for two weeks, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

The UK government has also updated its travel advice for “Cyprus” to advise against “all but essential travel” to the island due to the steady increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in South Cyprus lately.

On Thursday the Greek Cypriot authorities announced 121 new cases of the diseases, taking their total to date to over 4,000. In contrast there were just three new cases recorded in the TRNC on the same day, all locally transmitted.