Cyprus to screen children for COVID-19 to 'save Christmas'

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People wait outside a vaccination centre, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Limassol, Cyprus May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

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NICOSIA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Cyprus will include children as young as six in its COVID-19 screening programme and introduce mandatory masks in schools to ward off a surge in the virus, authorities said on Wednesday.

Cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have been ticking up on the eastern Mediterranean island, like elsewhere in Europe, over the past month. By late Tuesday, authorities had recorded 131,028 cases since the pandemic broke out in March 2020, along with 590 deaths.

From Nov. 29, children aged 6-11 will be required to undergo weekly screening for COVID-19, and wearing masks will be mandatory, Health Minster Michalis Hadjipantelas said.

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A "safe pass", which is a certificate of vaccination, will cease to be valid from Dec. 18 if seven months have lapsed from a person's initial vaccination dose, and if they have failed to get a booster shot.

Protection from the vaccines tends to wane after several months and while the shots greatly reduce the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, they do not prevent viral transmission or re-infection.

"Only through cooperation and individual responsibility can we overcome the threat of this virus, and save Christmas without the imposition of additional measures," Hadjipantelas said in a statement.

Cyprus introduced widespread restrictions on unvaccinated persons - an estimated 20 percent of the population - in August. The government made it mandatory for persons without a jab to get tested every 72 hours to access establishments ranging from bakeries and supermarkets to banks and public services.

Self-testing kits will be made available to the population from Dec. 13, with unvaccinated persons having to pay for the service.

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Reporting by Michele Kambas Editing by Mark Heinrich

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