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Cyprus extends commercial flight ban, hopes to spur tourism

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Monday extended a ban on commercial flights into and out of the country until May 28 as the government considers ways to restore the country's tourism industry to meet an anticipated swell in demand from vacationers eager to escape coronavirus lockdowns.

Since Cyprus imposed a flight ban on March 21, only cargo planes, authorized repatriation flights, and some humanitarian flights have been exempt. The government hopes to have airports operating full schedules after June 9, depending on how the pandemic unfolds domestically and abroad.

Authorities are trying to come up with plans for safely bringing back holidaymakers to Cyprus, where tourism accounts for 13% of gross domestic product. Cyprus tourism ministry officials said the Mediterranean island nation is conservative estimated to see a 60% drop in annual visitor arrivals this year.

Hoteliers' Association Chief Haris Loizides told private TV station Sigma on Monday that thanks to strong efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Cyprus is “high up” on the list of destinations that other countries and airlines see as a popular choice for vacation travelers.

But the business environment remains uncertain since Cyprus' two main tourist markets — the U.K. and Russia — are still coping with large numbers of COVID-19 cases, Loizides said. Cypriot officials are looking at bringing in vacationers from new tourism markets in the Gulf and the Middle East that have comparatively low numbers of coronavirus cases.

Loizides said strict social distancing, health and hygiene rules will be in effect at all hotels whenever they are allowed to open. Cyprus counts to date 898 confirmed virus cases and 16 deaths.

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