Cyprus to ease lockdown measures gradually after fall in COVID cases

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FILE PHOTO: Two women wearing protective masks run in Ledra Street, a main shopping street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Nicosia

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus announced on Wednesday a staggered easing of lockdown measures following a fall in the number of COVID-19 infections, including the reopening of primary schools and shopping malls on Feb. 8.

The island has been in a strict lockdown since Jan. 10 after a spike in COVID-19 cases and the detection of a more contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain.

Bans on large gatherings and the closure of shopping centres and restaurants had already been announced in December.

"We want to avoid any rash and risky action which might undermine the effort to resume social and economic activity," Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou told a news briefing, announcing the cautious easing of lockdown measures.

Authorities will permit the reopening of hairdressers and beauty salons on Feb. 1, allow up to 50% of staff to return to work at service companies and permit limited family gatherings.

Malls, large department stores and primary schools will reopen a week later, on Feb. 8. Churches will also reopen for worship after that date, with a maximum 50 persons in attendance.

Cyprus had seen new COVID cases occasionally exceed 500 a day in mid-December but that has now fallen to below 200 daily for about a week.

As of Tuesday, Cyprus had recorded a total of 30,252 COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, with 190 deaths.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones)