Message from Cyprus Edition One
As I post this blog we have been self-quarantined on Cyprus for a week. Every day brings a new development. We are currently comfortable and healthy but unsure of how or if our world journey will continue. So for today I thought I would tell you a bit about life on Cyprus under quarantine.
Some of you who follow my personal Facebook page might remember this post I made on January 23rd. I said “when people ask me if travel scares me it’s things like this (Corona) that scare me more than terrorism or crime. Luckily we aren’t flying for three more weeks but still its the kind of thing that can explode so quickly…”
That was on January 23rd two months ago and we were in Mauritius. As soon as I read the first story about Wuhan I felt a strong foreboding. But also thought to myself that we had two months in Africa and it would possibly be gone by the time we headed towards Europe.
But the nagging in the back of my mind made me go to the pharmacy in Mauritius and buy some face masks. The pharmacists asked me if we were going to China? Even he wasn’t thinking about it spreading outside of Asia.
It was late January when the first case was diagnosed in Washington State USA. But the US government did not react.
Fast Forward Late February
We were carefree in Victoria Falls and in Uganda too as we continued with our planned itinerary. It wasn’t until our arrival in Rwanda on February 27th that we began to see significant changes in airports and hotels (as a matter of fact, Rwanda had the coolest hi-tech system in place for screening). This is when I began taking very strong measures such as washing hands more frequently, not touching railings or elevator buttons and scrubbing things in our room like remote controls and door knobs. I’ve always washed down my airplane space and now we began using a bleach product everywhere we go.
In Kigali Rwanda we bought hand-sanitizer and more face masks, despite now hearing that face masks weren’t helpful. I still wanted to have some.
By this point the virus was spreading in the USA and becoming epidemic in my home state of Washington but Trump continued to deny that it was a legitimate issue or take measures to protect his citizens or the US economy. He was not listening to Advisor’s and making statements like this one – “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”. As we watched from afar the virus take over entire countries we were flabbergasted at the lack of concern from the US President.
People I know back home were split over the issue and not surprisingly along party lines. One faction thinking it was all getting blown out of proportion (and actually blaming Democrats for causing the outbreak to take the focus away from the election) while the other faction was beginning to hoard food, toilet paper and scream that something needed to be done.
Because of the malaria meds we took all through Africa I was suffering with some tummy issues and I was really worried about being flagged on the arrival in Israel since I wasn’t feeling 100%.
We touched down in Israel on March 4th and absolutely breezed through the airport. We were totally shocked that Israel’s entry was easier than Rwanda or Botswana and Israel seemed to not be doing ANYTHING to check visitors arriving in Tel Aviv. It sounded just like what was happening in the USA. Head in the sand. I was a bit disconcerted.
We enjoyed our first few days in Israel but on day four we began hearing that they may close the border to tourists and our planned day trip with a local tour company to Palestine was cancelled when Palestine closed its borders.
We assumed we would be fine since we had arrived in Israel before the border closed, but when we woke up on day six (March 10), regular alerts we receive from the US State Department told us anyone who had arrived in the past week would be quarantined for at least two weeks from date of entry. Spot checks were going to be made and we would need to prove we had a place to stay for a 14-day quarantine. Since our planned itinerary in Israel did not include us staying in one place for 14 days we did not have lodging secured. We made a spur of the moment decision that it would be in our best interest to leave the country while the airport was open and we still could. We made this decision at 8:45 am and were on a flight to Cyprus at 1:45 pm. Never in our nearly four years of travel have we changed our plans so drastically. It was a stressful and heartbreaking decision but in hindsight the right one.
Before leaving Israel we had contacted the Airbnb in Cyprus to see if it might be available early. It was and they welcomed us 15 days early on March 10th. It’s a beautiful spot and perfect for a long stay. We currently have it booked until April 7th.
When we arrived in Cyprus ten days ago there were only three cases of Covid-19. We went to the grocery store, the pharmacy and stopped at a sporting goods store to buy sweatshirts. We had coffee in a coffee shop and visited the butcher. Our Airbnb host stopped by with cookies and citrus. Everything seemed normal and no one was panicking. We even did a cooking class and a winery tour and spent one day hiking.
But on the evening of March 15th we learned that Cyprus was limiting inbound flights and incoming tourists until April 10th. Schools were closing too and two of the island’s large hotels were closing. The island now had a total of 20 cases, all but one related to incoming visitors. Cyprus is a popular direct flight from London and many British expats live here.
This news also included the mandate that any visitor already on the island should self-quarantine for 14 days from the time of entry. So on March 15th we began a self-quarantine. We will stay quarantined until March 24th. For us that means we will still do our morning run, where we have no contact with other people, but spend the rest of the day at our villa.
BUT THEN, on the morning of the 16th it was announced the island was closing all restaurants, hotels, malls, museums, archeology sights until April 30th. Even one hospital was closed for 48 hours for sanitizing. Cases now up to 39.
We now realized that at the end of our 14-day quarantine, we still might not be able to enjoy the the sites of Cyprus because everything will be closed. But, it’s out of our hands.
On March 17th they began turning away people, even residents, arriving on flights unless they had a medical statement of their wellness. And those who were allowed in, are going into a mandatory GOVERNMENT LOCATION quarantine. That’s big…we did not want to be in a government location quarantine.
Today, March 20 th a big announcement. ALL FLIGHTS are to be terminated in and out of Cyprus beginning Sunday. All flights. Wowza. Even flights for Cypriots trying to return home. There is rumor of a possible curfew. Meanwhile today the US government declared a Level 4 Travel Advisory. Better late than never I guess. Hopefully the idiots partying in the Florida beaches aren’t carriers.
Cyprus has very quickly, without a lot of politicizing, created a comprehensive economic assistance plan to help it’s citizens get through this. It’s impressive and quit thorough including such things as unemployment, childcare and elder care. I am impressed with their foresight and lack of political bickering.
As of March 20th, Cyprus now has 81 cases of Covid-19. In the ten days we have been here it’s gone from 3 to 81, an exponential growth.
Grocery stores remain open, but only a dozen people allowed in at a time. We went yesterday and were presented with hand sanitizer and rubber gloves before entering the store.
So every day something new and foreboding.
So Now What?
So now what? I have no idea. Our next flight booked was to Ukraine on April 7th. But even if Cyprus reopens its airport by then, Ukraine’s borders are closed. Beyond that we are supposed to be in Malta in late April and May. As of today Malta’s borders remain open but anyone entering must self-quarantine for 14 days. No doubt that too will change shortly.
We were planning to attend a wedding in France in late June and then head to the USA for a six month visit. Even if we forego France we are currently unable to get a flight home. We have a lot of money at stake, with little help from airlines or lodgings as far as refunds so far. We did get a refund from Airbnb for our place in Jerusalem, but lost the money for the other hotels and flight changes in Israel. We also got a full refund from our Kiev hotel after we contacted them with a personal email. We are currently waiting to hear from Ukraine airlines.
Of course our health is more important than the money, but we actually might be safer staying put than going to the USA. And we honestly might not be able to get a flight for an indefinite amount of time. We just don’t know.
We feel we can’t make a decision now until the end of March at the earliest, when several countries who closed their borders on March 14th will make a decision as to what’s next. If borders and airports remain closed we may be able to get flight refunds or at least credit. Or we may have to cough up (no pun intended) the money to get back to the USA. Currently a flight from Cyprus through London to the USA will cost us nearly $2000 per person – that is if the Cyprus airport reopens…and if any flights to the USA are running.
My Biggest Fears
My biggest fear is not about coming down with the virus; although we are in our sixties we are healthy and strong. My biggest fear is the economy and how this might effect jobs and lives of people I care about back home. Already my friends and family who own small businesses and restaurants are in dire straits. Even since I began writing this blog several days ago the changing economic impact to the USA seems catastrophic. Frightening.
My biggest fear is that my father (age 87 Alzheimer patient), my mom (age 81) and step-day (age 90 with many medical complications) and my mother-in-law (healthy but age 86) will get the virus. And of course I’m very fearful for my adult sons.
My biggest fear is this thing will go on for months…years? And we may get trapped indefinitely.
I am in no way a “sky is falling” kind of person. I am definitely “look at the bright side” girl. In fact I have been criticized in my life as a “Pollyanna” by people with a less positive outlook.
HOWEVER I am also a realist and see this as a long-term scenario. And that is why the things I listed above scare me.
Meanwhile we have no choice really but to wait and watch at least until mid April. Hopefully by then we will be armed with enough information to move forward in one way or another. There are few other options. The only silver lining is the weather here in Cyprus is finally beginning to warm up a bit.
I’d love your comments on the blog about your situation wherever you are. I am genuinely concerned for each of you and I am thinking of all of you and sending love and best wishes. God speed.
Not in my wildest dreams. Wow.
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