LARNACA, Cyprus — Cyprus welcomed its first tourists after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday with flights scheduled from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria.
Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with a transmission rate below one and a very low mortality rate.
The Mediterranean island’s main airport at Larnaca reopened to passengers for the first time since a ban on commercial flights was imposed on 21 March.
“After two and a half months, the connectivity of our island with 19 other countries returns. Cypriot airports open with optimism with the first flight arriving at Larnaca from Israel,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos tweeted.
According to the airport’s operator Hermes, five arrivals and five departures were scheduled from Larnaca on Tuesday. The first departure was an Aegean airline flight which left at 8 a.m. for Athens. The first arrival was an Israir Airlines plane from Tel Aviv at 10:30 a.m.
Paphos airport in the west of the island will welcome its first flights on June 21.
Karousos was at Larnaca to welcome the first visitors Cyprus has seen since early March.
Normally at this time of year, the island fills with Northern European tourists drawn by its pristine Mediterranean beaches.
Cyprus came out top in a survey of European beaches published by the European Environment Agency on Monday with 99.1 percent of its beaches boasting excellent water quality.
Britons, Russians kept away
Under its exit lockdown road map, Cyprus is initially opening its airports to a select band of 19 countries that are considered low risk.
They include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta, but the island’s two biggest markets, Britain and Russia, are not on the approved list.
Sweden, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are also not listed.
All those arriving between June 9 and June 19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they are coronavirus negative.
From June 20, there will be no need to provide a health certificate from 13 of the 19 countries and another six countries will be added to the list including Switzerland, Romania and Poland.
Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific data.
There will also be temperature checks and random testing of travelers, free of charge, when they arrive on the island.
To attract tourists to the island, the government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for the coronavirus while enjoying a holiday on the Mediterranean island.
Authorities estimate that tourist arrivals this year, which had been projected at nearly 4 million before the coronavirus, will fall by as much as 70 percent, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which generates around 15 per cent of the island’s GDP.
Revenue from tourism generated 2.68 billion euros in 2019, down 1 per cent from the previous year, bolstered by record arrivals of 3.97 million.
Cyprus says it has one of the lowest ratios of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe having tested around 12 per cent of its population.
The Republic of Cyprus has a total of 970 coronavirus cases and only 18 deaths.
Last July, a British tourist accused 12 young Israeli men of gang-raping her at a hotel in the holiday resort of Ayia Napa, prompting their brief arrest. The 19-year-old woman later retracted the claim, a move she alleged happened under police duress. The Israelis were freed and the woman went on to be convicted for making false allegations. In January, she received a suspended sentence in the case and returned to the UK. The high-profile case was spotlighted in Israel, Cyprus and the United Kingdom.