'Everything in Cyprus is reliant on the Brits – now many of us won't survive the winter'

Alix Norman
·4-min read
Cyprus has been stripped of its travel corridor, putting hundreds of tourism businesses at risk - getty
Cyprus has been stripped of its travel corridor, putting hundreds of tourism businesses at risk - getty

Yesterday evening, Cyprus was added to the UK government’s quarantine list, meaning that, from 4am on Sunday, those visiting the Mediterranean island from the UK are required to isolate for 14 days on their return.

The decision did not come as a huge surprise. Over the last few weeks, Cyprus has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases –from single digits to over 100 a day – and the nation’s test positivity rate stands at roughly four per cent. But it’s nevertheless a huge blow for a nation which relies so heavily on tourism.

At the start of 2019, British expat Jane Lewis owned a tea shop based in Limassol, the town hardest hit by the pandemic. “Before corona, we were busy all year round,” she says, “especially during the summer. The Brits would pop off the cruise ships and drop in for tea and scones. 

“But when corona hit Cyprus in the spring, custom dried up overnight. The landlord wouldn’t reduce our rent, measures became prohibitive, and so I simply fired my staff and closed my doors. Since then, I’ve tried various other ventures, but Limassol is so reliant on foreign visitors that everything has been a bust. I reckon, with Cyprus now on the UK quarantine list, I’ll be living off tea and toast this winter!”

Kathryn Costa rents out villas all over the island to British tourists. “Last night we were officially alerted that Cyprus has been added to the UK quarantine list, and that the Home Office has advised against all but essential travel. That means we’ll probably see a tit-for-tat situation on Monday, with Cyprus demoting the UK to its own high-risk category. 

“Everything here, from souvenir shops to taxi offices, pharmacies, and cafés is completely reliant on the Brits” - getty
“Everything here, from souvenir shops to taxi offices, pharmacies, and cafés is completely reliant on the Brits” - getty

“Either way, we have to advise 40 families – some of whom only arrived on the island on Wednesday – to leave the country by tomorrow evening if they’re unable to isolate upon their return to the UK. So for the last few hours, my team and I have been desperately chasing down our clients; searching the beaches if we can’t reach them by phone.”

In response to the diktat, ticket prices on flights back to the UK are increasing by the minute, says Kathryn; for many, what began as a sun-soaked escape has become a financial nightmare. “But it’s worse for those of us living here,” she adds. “The local tourist industry filters down to so many people: car hire companies, tour organisers, boat owners, waterparks... There are whole families who all work in the same hotel; they’ve had almost no income for months and unemployment benefits in Cyprus take two months or more to kick in. There are going to be people who just can’t survive the winter.”

On the west coast, the town of Paphos has long been a favourite destination for British visitors. “In summer, about 85 per cent of our customers are tourists from the UK,” says British Cypriot bar owner Tony Theo. “Everything here, from souvenir shops to taxi offices, pharmacies, and cafés is completely reliant on the Brits, and that income keeps us afloat till the following spring.”

This year, with his bar turnover down by 80 per cent, Tony is looking at “a very bleak winter indeed. Everything here is geared to the UK market, and now Cyprus is on the UK quarantine list, who’s going to come? It will be hand to mouth for those of us who rely on the tourist industry.” 

Coronavirus Cyprus Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Cyprus Spotlight Chart - Cases default

Tony, who spent the summer helping those in need – “we made 12,000 free meals for those who couldn’t afford to feed themselves” – has already had to lay off 10 employees, and cope with the newly-imposed 11pm curfew.  

“We can’t afford to replace or repair anything; we go home early and stare at the telly. Being on the quarantine list is just another kick in the teeth. I mean, why can you drive from Liverpool to London, but it’s not considered safe to fly to an island that’s had just 25 corona-related deaths in eight months? 

“But you have to stay positive,” he concludes. “During that first lockdown, I looked after a retired British teacher who’d been living on bread and vinegar for a month. I reckon if she survived, so can we.”