Policy responses for Cyprus - HSRM

Cyprus


Policy responses for Cyprus

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Update 28th September 2020

The coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on the revenues of the recently implemented National Health System, which come mainly from health contributions levied on income of beneficiaries and retirees and from employers. It is estimated that this reduction is more than 50% of the Health Insurance Organization monthly revenues, due to the increased unemployment, the reduction of wages and the fact that the various allowances granted to employees via state support plans due to the pandemic are exempt from any taxes or cuts. These emergency support programs cover around 60% of employee-beneficiaries wages by the State in the form of allowances, and since state benefits are not taxed, the revenues of the new General Health System have been reduced accordingly.

A recent decree of the Ministry of Health with effect from September 25th 2020, allowed the entry into the Republic of migrant domestic workers from countries that do not fall into categories A and B after obtaining a special permit. The special permit is issued by a special committee created for this purpose following the decision of the Council of Ministers. The granting of the entry permit is based on the order of submission of the relevant application, which is entered in an electronic register at the Ministry of Interior, and the employer has paid in advance the cost of accommodation of the domestic worker, for the mandatory self-isolation at a designated building for a total period of 14 days from the date of the arrival. In addition, the cost for two laboratory tests for the coronavirus COVID-19 (once upon arrival and a repeat test 12 days after arrival) will be covered by the employer. (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/diat/60.pdf).

The Plenary Session of the Parliament voted in favour and approved a new Bill that regulates and formally establishes distance education in public primary and secondary schools.

Update 10th September 2020

According to the Treasury of the Republic of Cyprus, the expenditures of the Ministry of Labour Welfare and Social Insurance (MLWSI) in the period January - July 2020 exceeded 1 billion euros amounting to €1,005 million, an increases of €407 million or 68% compared to the corresponding period of 2019. The expenditures of the MLWSI constitute one a quarter of the state budget expenditures in the aforementioned period, while this percentage in the corresponding period last year was limited to only to 17% (€ 1.07 billion). The increase in spending is due to the ongoing support plans implemented after March this year to aid businesses and employees affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the starts of the pandemic in Cyprus in mid-March until the end of May, more than 180,000 workers and self-employed had been offered financial support in the form of subsidies, while for the June-July period, the number of workers exceeded 70,000.

Extension of the government’s financial support schemes
All the support plans have been extended until the end of October 2020, but with some changes. One change concerns the plan for companies of certain economic activities, with a change in the percentage of turnover that will be a prerequisite for joining the plan rising to 40% from 35% and the coverage of employees from 40% to 50%. The other change concerns the special plan to support economic activities related to the tourism industry and the employee coverage rate for companies with more than three employees, which will increase from 45% to 65%. A third change was made in the plan for the hotels with an increase from 35% to 40% in the percentage reduction in the turnover of the eligible companies as well as an increase to the percentage of coverage of employees for companies that will be reactivated from 50% to 80%.

At the same time, the overall effort is reinforced by the special training plans of the Human Resources Development Authority (HRDA) and by European funds. The MLWSI is also preparing disincentives for businesses that are laying off staff and reducing salaries.  These will be in the form of excluding businesses from the special plans or other support measures implemented by the MLWSI. The Labour Minister in a recent press conference has called on companies facing sustainability problems to contact the Department of Labour Relations.

The Special Plan for Hotel Units and Tourist Accommodations is extended until the end of October. For these businesses to be eligible, they must have a reduction of their turnover of 40%, while the coverage rate of their employees that will be reactivated is 80%. The salary subsidy from the state will be 60%, as it was in previous plans. At the same time, companies should not proceed with layoffs from March 1st to October 31st, 2020 and should provide offers to attract domestic tourism. Persons employed between November 2020 to March 2021 will be required to join the full-time and part-time employment support plans.

With regards to the Special Plan for activities related to the Tourism industry or economic activities directly affected by tourism or businesses that are under mandatory complete suspension the companies that will join the plan must have a reduction in turnover of at least 40%. For companies with three employees, the coverage rate by the state will be 100%. If more than three persons are employed, then 65% as opposed to 45% that was valid in the previous plans. For the companies that will remain in complete mandatory suspension of operations, 80% will be covered. The Special Plan for the complete and mandatory suspension of operations remains unchanged.

Special Support Plan for the Unemployed: targets the unemployed persons who have exhausted the right to payment from January to June 2020. The monthly allowance will be €500.
Special Plan for Certain Categories of Independent Employees: It concerns the self-employed with the monthly allowance ranging from €300 to €900.

The two plans by the HRDA amount to a total of €21 million and are as follows:
  1. Special Employee Training Plans for the period beginning after the end of October 2020 targeting 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses, to provide employee training on an average, one week of per month. The monthly salary cost of the company will be reduced by 25%.
  2. Vocational Training Program for the Unemployed with a focus on the Unemployed of the Hotel Sector.

European funds:

As from November, four projects of €35 million will be implemented, which concern the subsidy of salary costs up to 75% for the employment of the unemployed, with resources from the European Social Fund (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/3092020_7.pdf).

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth (MECSY) has published a Guide for parents and guardians for proper and safe schooling of children during the pandemic. The Guide provides information that will help in the joint efforts for the safe attendance of children in schools. The Guide includes contact information for the parents and guardians of Primary and Secondary Education students, which they can call in case they have questions about the health protocols. (https://paideia-news.com/assets/images/gallery/odigos-goneis-kidemones-s.pdf).

A bill for the establishment of distance education in schools has been submitted to the Parliament, by the government and the MECSY. The bill which has been approved by the Council of Ministers is now being considered by the Parliamentary Committee on Education. It includes amendments to the Regulations of both Primary and Secondary General and Technical Education so that the possibility of distance education is explicitly provided for and covered institutionally and legally if the need arises.

The Labour Inspection Department of the Republic of Cyprus in collaboration with EU-OSHA (European Agency of Safety and Health at Work), have developed an interactive online risk assessment tool (OiRA) for COVID-19. OiRA COVID-19 focuses on identifying hazards in the workplace due to COVID-19 and is designed to assist in the management of these hazards by proposing preventive and protective measures promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers. The OiRA COVID-19 is free and easy to use, it is solution-oriented and continuously updated with the current legal provisions aiming to facilitate compliance with them (www.oiraproject.eu/el/oira-tools).

Update 29th August 2020

Following the approval of the Council of Ministers, the Deputy Ministry of Tourism has announced the launch of the extraordinary plan for the support of domestic tourism in an attempt to alleviate the negative effects of the pandemic on the tourism industry of the country(http://www.riknews.com.cy/index.php/news/oikonomia/item/103467-ektakto-sxedio-enisxysis-egxoriou-tourismoy-anakoinose-to-yfypourgeio-tourismoy). The Plan targets the permanent residents of Cyprus and aims primarily at encouraging holidays in Cyprus, through the provision of affordable prices by tourist accommodation and the subsidisation of the cost of accommodation to the citizens who will use it. The main purpose of the Plan is to provide additional support to all local businesses, through the increased activity that is expected to be generated in various parts of the country. The Plan is expected to help reduce the recession in the economy and maintain employment.

Update 5th July 2020

On June 26th, the government announced a new support scheme aiming to subsidise the interest rates of housing loans in an attempt to support household in concluding loans for housing purposes. The support scheme applies only to new housing loans and primary residence for the period 01/03/2020 – 31/12/2020. The loan amount cannot exceed €300,000; the duration of the subsidy will be four years and the interest rate will be subsidised up to 1.5% (Housing Loans Support Scheme).

Furthermore, the government has introduced a support plan which also subsidises interest loan rates of new businesses plans in order to help improve liquidity. This new scheme includes self-employed individuals as well. It covers loans that have been approved from 01/3/2020 to 31/12/2020 and applies for a period of 4 years while the maximum amount of business loan cannot exceed €800,000.
The Human Resources Development Authority of Cyprus (ANAD) has prepared an updated ‘Health and Safety’ protocol which needs to be followed by all participants to its activities. It includes specific guidelines on safety and health issues to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which should be followed when planning and implementing training activities as well as evaluating professional qualifications (http://www.anad.org.cy/easyconsole.cfm/page/project/p_id/640).

Update 24th June 2020

On June 17th, the Ministers of Financial Affairs and Labour, Social Insurance and Welfare jointly announced a new series of support measures. These include four new support schemes for employees and businesses and one for unemployed persons. There are specific conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to apply to these new schemes: a) there must be a significant reduction in the turn-over (over and above 25%) and no dismissal of employees, b) a certificate from a certified accountant must accompany the application and c) each business can only participate in only one scheme at a time (https://www.pio.gov.cy/%CE%B1%CE%BD%CE%B1%CE%BA%CE%BF%CE%B9%CE%BD%CF%89%CE%B8%CE%AD%CE%BD%CF%84%CE%B1-%CE%AC%CF%81%CE%B8%CF%81%CE%BF.html?id=14303#flat).

The first plan targets hotel units and tourist accommodation and covers four periods until October 12, 2020. Any hotel unit or tourist accommodation that experienced a reduction in turnover of more than 35% and over 40% may be included, depending on the time period. There will be a subsidy for employees that will also include those dismissed before March 1st and then re-hired.

The second plan concerns economic activities related to the tourism industry or economic activities that are directly affected by tourism or economic activities related to companies that are subject to mandatory (by law) full suspension. It covers four periods from June 13th to August 31st, 2020 and targets businesses with turn-over reduction rate over 40% and over 55%, depending on the period and includes a salary subsidy rate of 60%.

The third plan, concerns businesses that cannot apply for plan 1 and 2 with a reduction rate of their turnover over 35% and over 40% depending on the period and covers three periods from June 13th to August 31st.

The fourth plan, concerns businesses with complete suspension of their work, and covers six periods; from June 13th to August 31st. Depending in the number of employees there is a salary subsidy rate.

The fifth plan is addressed to persons registered as regular unemployed persons in the public employment registry and are recipients of an unemployment benefit for which the right to receive was exhausted any time between January and June 2020. The special allowance will be equal to €360 for a period of one month and will not be provided for any period for which the unemployed person was receiving an unemployment benefit or any other kind of benefit.
It is estimated that the beneficiaries from the five new plans will be 50,000 people.

The Department of Labour Inspection in collaboration with the European Organisation for Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) and the CERIDES Research Centre of the European University of Cyprus, has carried out a webinar on June 18th on the thematic "COVID-19: Return to Work". The aim of the seminar was to inform professionals in the field of safety and health, for a safe return to the workplace after the restart of the economy. The seminar presented good practices, the new OiRA tool for COVID-19, strategies for controlling and preventing disease in the workplace, and risk assessment for remote working.

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Update 14th June 2020

In an effort to control the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in Cyprus, all incoming passengers must present an "Entry Card" before boarding the airplane. There are requirements set by the MoH which depend on several factors. These requirements and what applies to each country, are available at: https://cyprusflightpass.gov.cy/el/quick-check. Upon successful completion, the applicant receives a report that includes the Cyprus Flight Pass and all relevant information and documents required to be presented before boarding and upon arrival in Cyprus.

As part of the gradual lifting of restrictive measures on flights to and from the airports of Larnaca and Paphos and in order to facilitate both the passengers and the airline companies, an electronic platform was set up on June 8th, through which those passengers wishing to travel to the Republic of Cyprus should submit in advance all the required information and documents (including health certificate for the COVID-19, declarations etc.) Through this platform, passengers will receive an electronic approval which will enable them to travel to Cyprus. The use of the electronic platform CyprusFlightPass is compulsory for all who wish to visit Cyprus (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/en/press/9062020_7.pdf). Moreover, the Council of Ministers has approved a new incentives scheme for airlines companies, in order to re-establish flight connections between Cyprus and other countries (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/en/press/11062020_2.pdf).

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth has carried out since the beginning of May 2020 twelve online series of teleconferences aiming to train staff and parents. A total of 1275 teachers, school assistants / attendants for children with special needs and parents have taken part in the teleconferences (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/12062020_8.pdf).

The Cyprus Casinos are reopening as of June 13th operating under strict safety and health protocols. There will be a limit of up to 3 persons per game table, while between each game slot machine one will remain inactive in order to maintain the safe distance between visitors. In addition, smoking will only be allowed in specially designated areas and will not be allowed at the game table.

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Update 6th June 2020

The Republic of Cyprus intend to pay all expenses in the event that a tourist or visitor is found to tes positive for COV-19 infection while on holiday in Cyprus, to support the tourist sector. The expenses to be covered in such an event will include the cost of accommodation, food and hospitalisation for the person testing positive as well as all the members of their families (transportation expenses will not be covered). This was a clarification by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Minister of Tourism following the initial letter signed by both ministers and the Minister of Transport, Communication and Works (http://www.tourism.gov.cy/tourism/tourism.nsf/All/46E061233EC4E1D5C22585750023719C/$file/COVID-19_Destination%20Protocol_Cyprus_final.pdf?OpenElement).

The Cyprus Sports Organisation has announced that as of June 13th the operation of gyms, all indoor and outdoor athletic and sport facilities will be allowed. As such, the previous decree that limited athletic exercise and training to a maximum of 10 persons and only outdoors will cease to be valid. The operation of these facilities must be aligned with the guidelines issued by the MoH (Clarification announcement regarding the measures for sports announced in the Decree (KDP 254/2020), dated 5/6/2020).

Despite the considerable lifting of restrictive and prohibiting measures that have been put in effect the following business and their related operations are still not allowed to recommence operations: music and dance venues, night clubs, disco clubs and entertainment centres (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/diat/43.pdf).

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Update 31st May 2020


The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Transport, Communication and Works and the Deputy Minister of Tourism in a joint announcement informed airlines, tourist operators and agencies that Cyprus is now ready to welcome tourists and travelers from various countries (See update May 25th 2020 in “Measures in other sectors”). This is a result of the successful management of the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in the very good epidemiological picture in Cyprus. The announcement includes simple questions and answers which describe what should be expected during the travel process but also during the time spent in Cyprus, with details on specific guidelines and protocols which will be in place (https://www.pio.gov.cy/assets/pdf/newsroom/2020/05/29.5.2020_COVID-19%20Destination%20Protocol%20-%20Cyprus.pdf).

The government has announced a series of new measures (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/28052020_1.pdf) to support the economy while at the same time it has withdrawn the original bill that provided state guarantees to private companies and self-employed individuals, due to the lack of consensus for its approval by the parliamentary parties. These new measures are as follows:
  • A scheme that provides subsidies for Very Small and Small Businesses and the self-employed. The aim of the plan is to cover part of the rent and operational expenses of these businesses. The total amount of the subsidy exceeds 100 million euros. The sponsorships apply to 50,000 entities who employ up to 50 employees. The amount of this one-time sponsorship is distributed to self-employed individuals and very small businesses that were under full or partial suspension of their operations and were included in the Special Plans of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance in the period April 13th - May 12th as follows: (a) € 1,250 for one person in employment, (b) € 3,000 for 2-5 persons, (c) € 4,000 for 6-9 persons and (d) € 6,000 from to 10 to 50 employees.
  • A liquidity boost, amounting to €800 million, for financing Small and Medium Businesses, through the Cyprus Entrepreneurship Fund. The beneficiaries will be Small and Medium-sized businesses each with a maximum staff of 250 people.
  • The government in collaboration with the European Investment Bank will increase its lending capacity by €500 million. Beneficiaries will be organisations that are registered and operate in Cyprus and employ up to 3 000 employees.
  • The Council of Ministers approved the participation of the Republic of Cyprus in the European Guarantee Scheme, which was created for the purpose of addressing the effects of the pandemic on the Member States of the European Union. Cyprus is expected to raise €300m - €400m from the fund for the needs of the Cypriot economy. Beneficiaries will again be Small and Medium Businesses, which have been hit by the pandemic. The loans granted under this scheme will be guaranteed by 80% by the scheme.
  • An interest rate subsidy scheme will be introduced for new business loans for businesses and self-employed individuals, who face a lack of liquidity because of the pandemic. The plan concerns loans effected from March 1st, 2020 to December 31st, 2020. The subsidy will be apply for a period of four years as follows: (a) For the first two years the interest rate will be subsidised up to 3.5%, (b) years 3rd and 4th the interest rate will be subsidised by 2% for Small and Medium Businesses and the self-employed and 1.5% for larger businesses.
  • In an attempt to strengthen the economic recovery, the Council of Ministers has decided to give instructions to all the competent authorities, to proceed to the announcement of tenders and bids for all planned development projects.
  • The government will inject an additional €6.3 million in order to strengthen the tourism sector which with the current plan already announced will amount to a total of €15.7 million that will become available until the end of 2020. In order to strengthen the sector of tourist accommodation and catering, it was decided to reduce the VAT rate from 9% to 5% for the period from July 1st to January 10th 2021.
  • In addition, an amount of €22 million will be allocated to support and strengthen the agricultural sector.
  • Lastly, the Council of Ministers aims to support home ownership by providing interest rates subsidies for housing loans for a specified period and maximum loan amount. It concerns loans that have been concluded or will be concluded between March 1st 2020 and December 31st 2020 and are not exceeding €300,000. The subsidy period will be for four years and will amount to 1.5% of the interest rate.

The MoH urges hotel and tourist accommodation owners and managers to implement a series of protection measures. These measures must include the management of any suspected case of COVID-19 infection, affecting an employee or a customer according to the regulations of the MoH (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/erg7.pdf). In the context of the existing obligation of hotel manager for written risk assessment protocols and the existence of a health and safety management system the issue of the Covid-19 must also be included as a priority issue. It is highlighted that the management of hotel and tourist accommodation facilities should determine the roles and responsibilities of the staff by explicitly delegating tasks and informing staff in order to be aware of the actions particularly in the event of a Covid-19 infection incident. It is strongly emphasised that no tourist accommodation should operate where customers of different families share rooms or do not have exclusive access to toilets and showers. The other main provisions affecting the hotels and tourist accommodations include staff hygiene, the organisation of interior and exterior space, the disposal of food and beverages, the operation of buffet catering services, the cleaning and disinfection of all areas and the adequate provision of consumables particularly those related with the prevention of infections. More detailed information is available here https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/erg29.pdf and https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/info.html.

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Update 24th May 2020

On May 21st the President of the Cyprus Republic conveyed to the Turkish Cypriot leader the intention of the government to gradually reopen the crossing points to the occupied areas. The two men have arrived to a mutual understanding on permitting initially the passage of vehicles, as of June 8th (http://www.cna.org.cy/WebNews-en.aspx?a=d47e7178cfee47c0b38ce32285dc367e). The crossing of the motor vehicles will be initially allowed only for the following categories: a) Turkish Cypriots who work or study in the areas controlled by the Republic of Cyprus or receive medical treatment at the Oncology Center of the Bank of Cyprus, the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics or a Public and Private Hospitals, b) Greek Cypriots who permanently reside in the occupied areas (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/21052020_12.pdf).

On the same day (May 21st) the President of the Cyprus Republic had a telephone conversation with the Greek Prime Minister and both men agreed on the need for Cypriot students to return to Greece in order to continue their studies which have been interrupted by the measures imposed for the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result three flights will be chartered on May 24th to transfer Cypriot students form Cyprus to Greece (https://www.pio.gov.cy/ανακοινωθέντα-άρθρο.html?id=13864#flat).

As of May 22nd, the transport and/or departure of persons who are crew members of commercial ships, platforms conducting exploratory drillings within the Exclusive Economic Zone and cruise boats moored in the ports is permitted. Crew members flying to Cyprus in order to sail away need to remain in self-isolation for 14 day prior to their arrival to Cyprus and possess a SARS-CoV-2 test. In addition, entry to the Republic of Cyprus is permitted for crew members who are Cypriots or permanent residents provided that the same provisions which apply to repatriating Cypriots and permanent residents are followed.

The operation of catering services is allowed provided that all guidelines and regulations set by the MoH are followed. These services include catering facilities in restaurants, hotels and tourist accommodation, taverns, cafes, pizzerias, bars, snack-bars and canteens. The services to the public in the above business must only be provided in the open outdoor areas. Moreover, provided that the service is done exclusively and only in table seats and the operation of play areas and playground within the facilities remain closed. The use of a mask is compulsory for members of staff, as well as compliance with all relevant guidelines issued by the MoH.(https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/diat/35.pdf).

The Department of Forests announced that in accordance with Decree, (No. 24) the free movement and access to parks and picnic areas is allowed, for a maximum of ten persons per group (minors included. The use of playgrounds in parks and picnic areas is excluded from the Decree and is therefore prohibited, while the camping sites continue to remain closed (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/diat/35.pdf).

The Council of Ministers had approved the relevant bill, which provides for the issue of credit notes (vouchers) for prepaid travel reservations that will not be made due to the Covid-19 pandemic, supported with state guarantees in case of insolvency of the company-provided.

The Plenary Session of the Parliament (May 22nd) has approved a bill of the government that concerns tax incentives for landlords with the aim of encouraging the voluntary reduction of the rent. This is an amendment to the basic rental law that offers specific tax incentives to owners who rent real estate to individuals or legal entities, with the aim of voluntarily reducing the rent for a certain period of time The bill provides incentives to reduce rents by granting a tax relief equal to a maximum of 50% of the rent reduction, when the owner proceeds with a reduction in rent for a period of up to three months within 2020 (Ministry of Financial Affairs).

Also, libraries, museums, archaeological and historical sites, ports (except for the disembarkation of passengers from cruise ships) will reopen on June 1st (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/19052020_12.pdf)

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Update 18th May 2020

The Minister of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth has clarified that students of primary schools and high schools will be returning to school on May 21st. On the contrary, students in the first two years of Lyceums and Technical schools will continue the distance education from home in an attempt to better safeguard the process of the examinations for the entrance of graduates in university. The children in kindergartens and pre-primary schools will also stay at home, since their very young age it makes difficult for them to follow and apply safety and protection measures. In addition, the competent Ministry has circulated a guide for parents and guardians for the proper and safe return of students to schools (see https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/odigos%20gia%20goneis.pdf and https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/press/15052020_5.pdf).

The Labour Inspection Department has issued an occupational health and safety guide for organisations outside the healthcare provision sector. This guide includes the general obligations of employers and self-employed persons, the special obligations of employers and self-employed persons for the preventive and protective measures to be taken in each workplace in relation to the SARS-CoV-2, monitoring the health of employers in relation to exposure to the virus, the obligations and rights of employers and the measures for the application and compliance to these measures (http://www.mlsi.gov.cy/mlsi/dli/dliup.nsf/All/168A53447CBA982CC2257E0A003D2586/$file/COVID_Odigos_%20Diaxeirisis_gia_Epixeiriseis.pdf).

The MoH has issued special guidelines for the operation of public and mass dining and catering areas. These include cleaning and disinfection instructions for staff cleaning within the premises and individual hygiene instructions to employees, markets and bazaars administrators against the spread of COVID-19 (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/erg19.pdf). These mainly include special instructions for the organisation and operation of the open-air markets, the display and distribution of food items and the cleaning and disinfection of the market stalls (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/erg18.pdf). Precautionary measures were also issued for the operation of barber shops and hairdressing saloons (https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/pdf/erg16.pdf).

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Update 11th May 2020

The Cyprus Economy and Competitiveness Council has made proposals for accelerating the reopening of the Cypriot economy and managing the consequences of the pandemic. These include aspects related to the urgent need for a coordinated and synchronized restart of the economy, with an emphasis on protection measures in private and at work. It also covers measures to encourage citizens to gradually begin to return to normality in terms of their economic and consumer behaviour and the targeted provision of incentives to private businesses to secure jobs positions.

The Cyprus Employers & Industrialists Federation (OEB) has produced a “Health & Safety at work checklist on SARS-CoV-2”. This is to facilitate the timely preparation of business to resume activities in a safe manner without risks to the health of their employees (http://www.oeb.org.cy/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/ATTACHMENT-English.pdf).

As part of the program for returning to normality schools are opening on May 11th with the return first of only the final year high-school and technical school students. The students in each class must not exceed twelve at any instance. As a result student of each class will be split into two groups and their attendance to school will happen on alternate days. The remaining levels of education (kindergartens, pre-primary and primary education, gymnasiums and lyceums) will reopen with the commencement of the second phase of the lifting of the restrictive measures on May 21st. The attendance will be exactly the same as with final year high school students i.e. maximum of 12 students in each class and alternate days attendance. A detailed health and safety protocol will be in effect in all schools and seminars will take place at each school on the first day of return for students. All schools will be disinfected before reopening. Moreover a plan is underway for the diagnostic testing of 20,000 students and teachers subject to the approval of the Ministerial cabinet.

The concurrent lifting of the restrictive measures in Greece and the reopening of the Greek Universities has created a need for the return of Cypriot university-students to Greece. All Cypriot students returning to Greece will need to be tested for COVID-19 upon their arrival and then transported to designated hotels while waiting for their test results. If the result is positive, they will have to stay at the hotel for the 14 days of quarantine whereas if it is negative, they will be required to remain in self-isolation, until a total of 14 days have elapsed from the day of arrival in Greece.

Many Ministries and related state services were mobilized early on in the crisis to take measures to protect the Cypriot society and economy from the impact inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Special mention should be made of the Ministries of Finance (MoF) and Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance (MLWSI), which have been activated since the early stages of the outbreak. All efforts to coordinate and manage the various facets of the crisis are also supported by the Ministries of Interior (MoI), Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Transport, Communications and Works (MCW) as well as the Central Bank, the State Security Services, the Civil Defence, Local Authorities, the Cypriot Red Cross, the Commissioner for Volunteerism and essential service providers.

The Council of Ministers has announced an emergency budgetary programme for employees and business totalling €700 million that includes the disbursement of €100 million for public health purposes, the reduction in electricity price by 10% for a period of two months, the suspension of divestments for three months by the Cyprus Asset Management Company [2] (KEDIPES), a three-month extension of submission of supporting documents for the “ESTIA” scheme [3] and the temporary maintenance of contributions to the new General Health System at the initial rates.

Ministry of Finance

A Law on Extraordinary Measures by Financial Institutions and related Supervisory Authorities has been approved by Parliament. These suspension measures aim at protecting borrowers who will not be able to repay their loans and are fully in line with the decision of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Cyprus. The repayment of capital instalments and interest on loans to financial institutions is suspended for a period of nine months until December 31st 2020. This is of great importance to Cyprus since the banking sector already has a considerable number of non-performing loans. The suspension covers physical and legal entities and self-employed persons who were previously consistent with their loan obligations.

The second Legislation concerns the granting of Government guarantees totalling €2 billion. The aim is to provide new low-interest loans of €1.75 billion to businesses and self-employed individuals to address the financial impact of measures taken to tackle the pandemic, along with the subsidisation of part of the interest rate to individuals, self-employed and businesses of €0.25 billion. The government guarantees aim to increase liquidity and support the real economy. The expectation is that by the end of the crisis, businesses will be able to obtain new cheap lending for liquidity and become viable so that at the end of the crisis they will be able to repay it.

Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance

Introduction of the Support Program for Coping with the effects of COVID-19:
• Special Sick Leave Allowance with three categories of beneficiaries: a) employees who have health problems and fall within a specific list published by the MoH, who must be absent from work for the purposes of protecting their health; b) cases of compulsory absence from work by persons instructed or ordered by the authorities for example in self-isolation or quarantine; and c) persons over the age of 63 and up to the age of 65.
• Special Leave of Absence applies to parents who work in the private or public/wider public sector for the care of children up to 15 years of age, due to the suspension of school attendance in public and private schools, nursery and kindergartens. Parents of persons with disabilities are entitled to the scheme independent of the age of the child, provided no childcare allowance is in effect. The period of Special Leave of Absence may be as long as four weeks, and does not include holidays. It applies for monthly salaries up to €2500 (gross). For the first €1000 of the parent’s salary, a Special Leave of Absence Allowance shall be granted, equal to 60% of the salary and for the next €1000 of the salary, 40% of the salary shall be granted. In cases of singe parents, the corresponding percentages are 70% and 50%, respectively. The Special Leave of Absence Allowance coverage period ends on April 30th 2020. The recipients of this allowance will not be paid a monthly salary by their employers and it is envisaged that at the end of the allowance period they will return to their work.
• Business suspension plan aims for business that have suspended their operations and for those businesses that continue to operate but at a reduction of more than 25% of in their turnover. The plan provides support to avoid layoffs with the introduction of an unemployment benefit to the employees for as long as the business is suspended.

The MLWSI has also set up a dedicated website, (https://www.coronavirus.mlsi.gov.cy/), through which those interested can be informed regarding the Support Program for coping with the effects of COVID-19, announced by MLSI. Lastly, a nationwide call centre (1433) has begun operation to respond to questions of the public on measures concerning the MLSWI.

The MoFA has been allocated the task of issuing foreign travel advice, most importantly to Cypriots abroad and those wishing to repatriate (see Sections 1-3). The Ministry of Education and Culture in collaboration with the deputy Ministry of Research and Digital Policy have been exploring ways to implement remote learning across all the levels of education. The MoI with the MCW are working together on issuing travel advice for persons wishing to enter the Republic and the documentation they will need to have in their possession (see Sections 1-3). The MCW is responsible for public transport and has given instructions on disinfecting buses and limiting maximum occupancy at 30% of the total bus capacity, while for all other vehicles and taxis a maximum of three passengers including the driver are allowed. Finally, the suspension of work on construction sites with more than three persons took effect on March 31st.

The role of the volunteerism movement must be emphasized, which is coordinated by the office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism, the Cyprus Red Cross and the teachers’ trade union (POED). The latter are assisting the MoH at the nationwide COVID-19 help line, and all others are providing support to vulnerable groups. The effort for the support of the vulnerable groups is reinforced by many local authorities, municipalities and communities.

Finally, the pandemic has given rise to cross-border collaboration between Cyprus and neighbouring Israel. The Republic of Cyprus will provide Israel with amounts of chloroquine in exchange for ventilator machines.

Update 18th April 2020

The following additional measures have been announced by the Ministry of Finance:
   • The extension of the deadline for submission of tax declaration for companies and self-employed as well as the tax payment by them for the year 2018 until June 1st, 2020.
   • For those who pay overdue debts to the Social Insurance Fund in instalments, the payment of instalments for the months of March and April 2020 have been suspended and the total repayment period has been extended by two months.
   • A support plan for companies that have completely suspended their operations due to the Covid-19 prohibition decrees, on which the state pays a special unemployment benefit to employees equal to 60% of their salary and a maximum of €1214. A precondition for the inclusion of companies in the support plan is a reduction of the company's turnover by more than 80% in March 2020 and a prediction for a corresponding reduction in its turnover for the month of April 2020. This reduction in turnover should be solely as a result of the effect of the pandemic of COVID-19 on the company.

Department of Registrar of Companies and Official Receiver:
   • The obligation to pay the annual fees of €350 from registered companies is extended until December 31st 2020 and the obligation to submit an annual report by companies is extended until January 28th 2021. Lastly, the suspension of any fines imposed by the Registrar of Companies till 2021.

Initiatives of the Cyprus Banks Association:
   • Fast account opening procedures. Citizens who do not have a bank account will be invited to open one at a bank of their choice, so that their allowances due to the Covid-19 pandemic are transferred easily and electronically.
   • The allowances granted by the MLWSI are not to be used against any loan or other obligations of the customers.
   • Identify customers over the age of 60 who do not have a bank card linked to their account, in order to provide them directly and free of charge with a bank card for the use of services offered by ATMs.
   • Following recommendations by the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the National Payments Committee, the limit for intact card transactions (without the need to enter Pin) has been increased to €50.

-   Allocation of an additional €11 million for the implementation of activities to support the tourist inflow to Cyprus, between June and September 2020. These actions will be carried out in collaboration with airlines and travel agents. In addition, actions are planned to strengthen the attraction of tourists during the period October 2020 - March 2021 as well as other actions that are deemed necessary in the field of tourism. The Deputy Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the implementation of this programme.

-   An extension is granted of the duration period for the execution of public-private sector contracts, for a period depending on each case, without activating any delay clauses and without seizing/liquidating part or all of the guarantees imposed for the timely execution of the contracts.

-   Evictions for the period until May 31st 2020 have been suspended. Any proceedings to recover possession, which began after 1 March, will be suspended until May 31st 2020. No court decision will be issued for the repossession of property till May 31st 2020.  Suspension of payment of rent may be agreed voluntarily between the tenant and the owner.

-   Amendment of the existing national legislation (General Principles of Administrative Law legislation 1999-2014), in order to allow Public and Wider Public Sector to be able to meet/adjourn by electronic means, to utilise tele-meetings and teleconferencing and constitute their decisions valid.

-   The Ombudswoman has addressed issues that need to be reviewed to improve the accessibility of people with disabilities to information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic (absence of subtitling and sign language interpretation, information in Braille, transcript of announcements/bulletins in simplified and easy to understand writing etc.). She has stressed that those responsible for taking a stand in this regard are the people with disabilities themselves and/or their representative organisations.

-   The Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy has announced a number of measures in an attempt to strengthen research and innovation in the midst of the pandemic that include new research grants for the treatment of COVID-19 amounting to €2.1 million, the adaptation of existing projects due to COVID-19, the support of the domestic research and innovation ecosystem providing flexible arrangements in existing projects and €13.81 million in forthcoming invitations.

Update 26th April 2020

Tourism occupies a central position in the Cypriot economy. The view of the Deputy Minister of Tourism is that the so-far effective management of the pandemic allows Cyprus to hope for a small but significant influx of tourists near the end of the summer tourist season.

Furthermore the Council of Ministers has approved a bill for the provision of credit vouchers for prepaid travel reservations that will not be made due to the Covid-19 pandemic, providing state guarantees in case of insolvency of the service provider in an effort to resolve the major issue of travel cancellations and the return of advances in Cyprus which exceed €80 million. According to the bill, consumers will be issued a voucher (credit note), which can be redeemed by the end of 2021. In case the credit note is not redeemed by December 31st 2021, the tourist service provider must return any amounts owed by January 31st 2022 the latest.

The Research and Innovation Foundation, with the cooperation and support of the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, has announced a special call for expressions of interest, inviting Cypriot organisations to the research and innovation ecosystem facilitating in this way their participation in formulating national strategy to effectively address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health, the economy and society in general. Among the main objectives are the coordination of all efforts and the development of synergies at national level while taking into account the initiatives and priorities as well as the needs that arise on a regional, European and global scale. The invitation includes thematic sections such as the use of technologies for the development of artificial intelligence for the collection and management of epidemiological information, the production and creation of equipment to support the frontline staff and the development of new diagnostic modalities.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth, has announced the start of the second phase of distance education in primary education during the pandemic on April 27th. This includes asynchronous learning with educational television for the lower classes (6-9 years old) and synchronous learning with a daily curriculum from 12:00 to 13:30 for the upper classes (10 and 11 years old). The second phase also includes secondary education and synchronous learning daily curricula for gymnasiums (12-14 years old) from 07:45 to 10:00 and lyceums and technical schools (15-17 years old) from 10:00 to 12:15.

Update 2nd May 2020

On May 2nd a series of new or updated measures were announced by the MLWSI which include:
  • A special sickness allowance in effect from 13/04/2020 – 12/05/2020, offered to all private employees and self-employed who belong to the vulnerable groups, are in quarantine or self-isolation, have been infected by the virus, are over 63 and do not receive any type of pension and are persons with a disability under employment in the special disability employment scheme.
  • A special leave for child care in effect from 13/04/2020 – 12/05/2020, offered to private sector employees with dependants under the age of 15 or with disabilities who are not able to work from home.
  • Special Support Scheme for the self-employed who have fully or partially suspended their operations as a result of the pandemic.
  • Special Support Scheme provision of unemployment allowance to employees of companies that fully or partially suspended their operations provided that the company will not terminate the employment.
  • Special Unemployment Allowance for those who are unemployed and their right to unemployment allowance has expired either in February or March 2020.
  • In addition, the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth announced the start of the application process for the granting of emergency financial aid amounting to € 900 (to be paid once) to beneficiaries from across the spectrum of arts and culture.
  • The department of Labour Inspection has announced specific instructions for controlling and preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in buses and other means of public transport. These include guidelines for strict adherence to personal hygiene rules by drivers and passengers, provisions for physical and social distancing of drivers and passengers, frequent natural ventilation of vehicles as well as cleaning, disinfection and waste management. Precautionary instructions have also been issued against the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 in theatrical, cinematic and television production facilities. These measures include application of hand hygiene on entering and exiting the facility, daily screening of the persons entering the production area with a questionnaire and specific instructions for make-up artists and hair and costume stylists.  Instructions to control and prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have also been forwarded to all the courts of justice.

Update 3rd May 2020

Τhe Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment have called on all butchers to ensure that their staff will undergo a mandatory test for SARS-CoV-2 and to submit the relevant certificate for a laboratory test by an authorised laboratory in order to prove that the test result is negative.

The Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organizations has announced that more than 1,400 people have been registered in the Volunteer Management Protocol in Periods of Crisis, including organised groups from all layers and levels of society. All these have been engaged in several volunteering activities, such as: the deliveries of personal and hygiene items to 2,200 people who are in compulsory quarantine in hotels; deliveries of special medical equipment and pharmaceuticals in collaboration with the MoH by a specialised group of volunteers who have been trained and equipped appropriately; home deliveries throughout Cyprus of medicines and basic necessities for the elderly and people with health problems, who do not have a supportive environment.

Cyprus is among 12 EU countries that have requested via the European Commission the provision of vouchers to citizens whose  flights were cancelled due to the pandemic instead of cash refunds. The 12 Member states argue that current rules regarding reimbursement were drawn-up before the emergence of the pandemic crisis (https://euobserver.com/coronavirus/148219?fbclid=IwAR2HAZUPXI6f-d8ma3RtVPYW1gYbjsfxvYsUXJ_j9VhDMvY31F6EEUpVKFA).

2. An asset management company set up after the collapse of the cooperative bank with the aim of achieving sustainable restructuring in collaboration with borrowers and where this is not feasible, disposing of, liquidating or selling assets at the maximum possible value.
3. According to the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Cyprus “The primary objective of the Estia Scheme is to achieve a socially acceptable solution by facilitating fiscal assistance from the Cypriot State to borrowers with non-performing loans secured by Eligible Primary Residence with Open Market Value (OMV) of less than €350.000.”