THE government decided Friday to open crossings to the north on Sunday, closed for three months due to coronavirus. Still, they remain ‘effectively closed’ as the Turkish Cypriot side has only said they would only open to Greek Cypriots on July 1.
Earlier in the day, deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said the government would open all the checkpoints with the north, except the Ledra Street crossing for all Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, and permanent legal residents. They presented a negative coronavirus test, no less than 72 hours old.
However, last week Turkish Cypriot ‘deputy prime minister’ Kudret Ozersay announced a unilateral decision to open checkpoints to Greek Cypriots on July 1, the day the Tymbou (Ercan) airport would open to flights from Turkey.
Speaking after a meeting President Nicos Anastasiades had with the scientific advisory team on Friday, Sentonas said the tests would need to be presented before every crossing.
Health professionals will also be carrying out random checks at the checkpoints.
He added it could change depending on the epidemiological data, and the strict measures were due to decisions the Turkish Cypriot took.
Sentonas said Turkish Cypriots had placed Turkey in category A while the EU classifies it as a high-risk country.
Countries in the north’s category A, which includes Turkey, will have to present a negative coronavirus test carried out 72 hours before arrival.
Also, the epidemiological data submitted by the Turkish Cypriots verbally fails to provide a clear picture of the situation in the north, he said.
“They raise serious doubts over the way and ability to deal with the situation in the areas where the Republic does not exercise effective control.”
Commenting on the Greek Cypriot decision, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said he was informed of the decision by the Greek Cypriot side, and he did not have time to get all the details to comment in full.
However, he said: “I believe communication on the island could become better.”
He said closing the crossings was a decision that has been taken by each side separately, and the decision by the ‘government’ in the north was ‘reactionary’. The UN had called on the leaders to collaborate when reopening.
Anastasiades and Akinci had decided on a gradual relaxation of measures back in May, which began on June 8 allowing Turkish Cypriot workers, patients, and students to cross by car, along with Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north.
But the gesture was meaningless to most people as the continued restrictions by the north did not permit any active movement.
Some people were happy about the latest development, as they would be allowed to finally reunite with their partners or family members after months apart.
One Greek Cypriot woman, Ioli Ioannidou said: “It was an unexpectedly exciting development.”
She was forcibly separated from her partner in March when coronavirus restrictions were put in place.
Commenting on the situation in the north, Ioannidou said the reluctance of the ‘government’ to implement the agreement between the two leaders, took its toll on her.
“We were expecting developments in early summer, but I started losing hope after all this mess,” she said.
However, following the latest decision by the Greek Cypriot side, she said she urged her partner to rush to get tested to avoid waiting in case many decide to do the same.
“His workplace had in the meantime told them that they would continue working from home, so he doesn’t have to cross daily for now and will stay on our side,” she added.
Ioannidou admitted that her partner might face a challenge when he gets back as her dog has become used to sleeping on his side of the bed. “They do get along of course, so the dog might not mind,” she said jokingly.
However, the unilateral decisions by both sides have some people down, as they will still be kept from returning.
Commenting to the Cyprus Mail, Simon Bahceli, who lives in the state-controlled areas, but owns a café-bar in the north said: “The crossings are still effectively closed.”
He said if the government-controlled areas require a €60 test every three days for crossing, it will cost him €600 per month to go back to work. “It is a disregard for people living on the island and a political move,” he said.
Steve Stavrou also said he would be kept apart from his Turkish Cypriot partner until the ‘dust settles’ on the crossings.
Both he and his girlfriend work in their respective parts of the island and crossing often to see each other would be costly, and ineffective with the quarantine condition still active in the north.
“I want to see her, but we both agreed to keep apart for now, until both sides agree on a better plan for the crossings,” he said.
Stavrou left his partner in March, and since then they have made do with video-chatting.