The Council of Ministers of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus has issued a statement this evening annulling previous decisions about free entry into the country, while giving full authority on border issues to the Health Ministry.
A fuller announcement on the new border arrangement is expected from the Health Minister Dr Ali Pilli later tonight.
It appears the government is preparing to take a step back just days after opening up the country to international visitors to aid the recovery of the economy. The priority seems to be shifting back to containment of the coronavirus pandemic, after the deadly disease resurfaced in the TRNC after an absence of more than two months.
The TRNC Health Ministry is solely responsible for public health and has additional powers under the 2018 Contagious Diseases Law.
In its statement today, the Council of Ministers declared the virus a ‘Hazardous Infectious Disease’, and confirmed that recent decisions around entry into the TRNC were being annulled, placing Dr Pilli in the driving seat.
The developments came during an urgent Council of Ministers meeting this afternoon, chaired by the Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, with the agenda firmly focussed on the best ways to tackle the re-emergence of coronavirus in North Cyprus.
After 75 days of no new cases, the country decided to open its borders to outsiders on 1 July. Within the first four days, the TRNC had five new confirmed cases of coronavirus, prompting demands from the Turkish Cypriot public for action to curb the rise.
Previously, the virus had been carried into North Cyprus in March by German tourists and was quickly contained. The borders were closed on 14 March and any TRNC citizens and residents who were repatriated were placed under mandatory quarantine, ensuring those who were infected could not transmit the disease to the wider public.
The last coronavirus patient from the TRNC was discharged on 11 May and the country had significantly relaxed its strict lockdown rules, allowing everyone in North Cyprus to enjoy a fairly normal way of life.
The government had sought to balance the needs of the economy with managing public health, and decided to open the borders in a controlled way. Travellers had different entry criteria according to the level of coronavirus risk posed from the country they were travelling from.
The TRNC listed all countries in one of three categories. Travellers from high risk Category C countries such as Russia, USA and the UK, were placed in quarantine. Those from Category B countries such as Turkey had to take two PCR tests, one before travelling and another on arrival, and self-isolate until the results of the second test were known. Those found positive would be taken into quarantine, the rest allowed to move freely in the country.
All eyes now turn to Dr Ali Pilli to see what he will announce on the revised entry criteria for North Cyprus
The new cases of coronavirus have been from both B and C category countries, with at least two of the five from Turkey, and one from Kazakhstan.
With no social distancing on boats and planes carrying passengers to the TRNC, the fear is that many others may be infected too.
As the cost of compulsory quarantine for thousands of people is prohibitive, the government may simply opt to close its borders for a time. While this may be popular with the public, it is likely to upset businesses, particularly those in the travel and tourism, and higher education sectors which rely on foreigners.
All eyes now turn to Dr Ali Pilli to see what he will announce tonight on the revised entry criteria for North Cyprus.
An unofficial translation of the statement issued by the Council of Ministers earlier today is as follows:
“The Council of Ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, has taken the decision to annul previous decrees regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) and entry into the TRNC and to declare the coronavirus disease as a Hazardous Infectious Disease.
“The Council of Ministers:
- Have cancelled decisions number ET (KI) 773-2020 and date 11.6.2020, number ET (KI) 778-2020 and date 21.6.2020, and ET (KI) 848-2020 dated 25.6.2020, [previously] taken by the Council of Ministers as precautionary measures regarding entry into the TRNC due to coronavirus (Covid-19);
- The coronavirus (Covid-19) disease, which was first detected in our country in March 2020, was declared a hazardous infectious Disease in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as per Article 39 of the Contagious Diseases Law No. 45/2018, and
- It was decided that entry and exit from the TRNC will be determined by the Ministry of Health, in accordance with the Contagious Diseases Law No. 45/2018. In this regard, a detailed announcement on the matter will be made later today by the Ministry of Health. It is announced to the public with respect.”
Main image, top, of TRNC Council of Ministers, 24 June 2020. Photo © Facebook / KKTC Başbakanlık