The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

Live Covid updates: Cyprus swaps student quarantine with 5 days of virus tests

Associated Press Thursday, 13 January 2022, 06:41 Last update: about 11 days ago

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus is changing its compulsory quarantine rules for school children in an effort to keep pupils in school amid surging coronavirus infections, the country's health minister said Wednesday.

Under the new system, schoolkids who were in close contact with classmates who test positive will no longer face compulsory quarantine. Instead, they must undergo either a rapid or a self-test for five consecutive days while continuing to attend school — so long as they test negative.

Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said after a Cabinet meeting that the month-long effort starting next week will apply to primary and secondary students regardless if they’ve been vaccinated or not.

The aim of the so-called “test to stay” scheme is to keep schools running by quickly identifying and isolating newly infected students without keeping classmates away from lessons.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry is scrambling to find substitutes for absent teachers. Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said authorities have mobilized to cover all teacher absences and pleaded with teachers’ unions to stop disclosing data that gives “misleading impressions” about the extent of the problem.

Unvaccinated teachers must be rapid tested every 48 hours. Those without a booster shoot need to undergo a rapid test once weekly.

The primary school teachers’ union will hold an ad hoc meeting of its members to decide whether to call strike action over what it calls “inadequate” measures to counter the spread of COVID-19 in schools, state broadcaster CyBC reported.

Also, as of Jan. 14, travelers to Cyprus must have undergone either a rapid antigen or a PCR test within 24 and 72 hours respectively prior to arrival. Anyone intending to travel to Cyprus but has contracted COVID-19 must wait 10 days before setting off.

Cyprus has seen an infection rate of over 3% for the last two weeks with the health care system feeling the pressure as hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients has been on a steady rise.

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GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland's government is halving the self-isolation times required of people who test positive for the coronavirus and the quarantine times required of people they were in contact with, to five days.

The Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch of Swiss government, made the decision Wednesday and in a statement noted intensive-care admissions are lower in the pandemic since the emergence of the omicron variant worldwide over the last two months.

The decision to shorten the isolation and quarantine periods, from 10 days previously, results from shorter times between infection and transmission of omicron compared to earlier variants, the government said. The ability of Swiss regions to trace contacts has come under increased pressure as case counts, and thus people affected by isolation and quarantine, has risen sharply.

“The epidemiological situation is critical and remains difficult to assess: Hospital admissions and occupancy of intensive care units have fallen in recent weeks despite a surge in the number of cases,” the government said.

However, the council cautioned that while omicron is less dangerous for vaccinated and recovered people, a surge in hospitalizations in the country is still expected given a huge spike in case counts and an increase in positive tests among people admitted to hospital “even though they were not admitted due to COVID-19.”

That requires isolating more people, which makes care in hospital more complex, and threatens to sideline more staff members who test positive too, it said.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Protesters opposing COVID-19 restrictions in Bulgaria clashed Wednesday with police as they tried to storm the Parliament in the capital of Sofia.

A heavy police presence prevented protesters from entering the building and some were detained. Several people, including police officers, were injured during the clashes. Eventually, the protesters were pushed back and police cordoned off the building.

The violence erupted at a protest rally against mask and vaccine mandates organized by a nationalist group that is fiercely opposing the Bulgarian government's anti-epidemic measures.

“The aim of the protest is to remove the restrictive measures and especially, first of all, the unconstitutional green certificate,” Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the Vazrazhdane party, said ahead of the protest.

The nationalist group, which holds 13 seats in Parliament's 240-seat chamber, has won support among opponents of coronavirus restrictions.

The nearly 1,000 protesters, who waved national flags and sang patriotic songs, remained at the square in front of the National Assembly, saying they planned to stay there until their demands for abolishing the mandatory face masks and green vaccination status passes are met.

Bulgaria, which is facing a new surge in infections, is the least vaccinated country in the 27-member European Union, with only a third of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany's president called Wednesday for a thorough debate over plans for compulsory coronavirus vaccinations for all adults in the country, saying such a drastic measure needs to be fully justified.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has backed calls for a vaccine mandate and lawmakers are expected to begin debating a bill later this month. Polls show a majority of people in Germany back compulsory vaccination against COVID-19, but a vocal minority opposes the idea.

“I, for one, consider it necessary and will actively campaign for it,” Scholz told lawmakers in parliament in Berlin, adding that not getting vaccinated was not a personal decision since it has consequences for the entire society.

"There’s no decision you make just for yourself, and that’s why mandatory vaccination is also important,” he added.

At a roundtable debate with citizens on the issue, however, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the exceptional situation of a pandemic increases the pressure for the state to act, but it doesn't replace the requirement to weigh up arguments and balance interests."

“A vaccine mandate means a debate mandate,” he added.

Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, said he wouldn't take sides in the debate but urged those involved to have “respect for other positions, but also respect for facts and reason, that must be and remain our common currency.”

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