Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said in an interview to Phileleftheros published on Saturday that the most important thing for his ministry is to restore Cyprus’ connectivity as it is fundamental for restarting the economy.
He added that there have been no cutbacks in funding for public works due to the crisis but said that the timeline for implementation of projects in its pipeline is being challenged.
J: How will airports reoperate?
MoT: We need to look at the chain. Say there will be flights; what needs to be done? Will the passenger need to have undergone the Coronavirus test 72 hours in advance? Will she take the test upon arrival? Will we take the temperature of each passenger or will we use thermal cameras? Will we only take samples? Will aircraft capacity be at 50% or 66%? Will passengers be offered masks and gloves on the plane? What additional infrastructure do we need and how do we put them in place? From which countries will we accept flights and by what criteria? Will we require testing from some countries and not from others?
Moreover, some countries’ policy will be to delay lifting restrictions on flights to boost domestic tourism. We want tourists from those countries, but we too want domestic tourism.
We will have a detailed action plan in 15 days. Flights need to resume in early or mid-June. Decisions should not be prohibitive but need to be the right ones, which is why the contribution of scientists is important.
It is important to inform the agencies, airlines, travel agents and citizens in a timely manner of our plan with all the details, the dates, the scenarios. They should be informed early on that if all goes well, so and so will happen in June, in July, in August.
J: Should we anticipate delays in public projects due to Covid-19?
MoT: It is a challenge for the Ministry to regain the time lost due to coronavirus for the projects it needs to implement. Where possible, eg tenders, studies etc, we did not stop. For new projects, I pressed hard on the services, just so that we can move forward and in time despite the conditions. Now, we are turning our attention towards regaining lost time.
J: What are those projects?
MoT: We have both big and small. We are moving ahead with the traffic cameras, the solution for the Ayia Fyla traffic congestion, the Nicosia ring road and others.
J: How will you move ahead? Are there no cutbacks in funding?
MoT: No, I don’t see an issue with funding. We cut back as much as we could. We discussed these matters at the latest Cabinet meeting. Based also on the suggestions of the Finance Ministry, all big public projects will go ahead. Only a few projects have been affected, those whose contracts were due to be signed say November when advance payments would be due. The signing of those has been pushed back to early 2021 so that they can be paid from the next budget.
J: You are also dealing with a legal mess with the six bus contracts…
MoT: The new bus contracts are a priority for the Ministry. We had the appeals to the Court with some decisions in favour and some against the Ministry. We follow the opinions of the Law Office for each case. We want these to clarify as soon as possible. We will make assignments where necessary, make extensions where needed. We have the bus routes. We had to bring executives from other departments under the general manager to work on the new bus routes.
J: What does ‘the day after’ look like for the Road Transport Department, the Department Of Electrical and Mechanical Services, the Post Office?
MoT: The Road Transport Department is the first state department to have digitalised services and more are on the way, like improvements to the booking system for driving tests, the theoretical exam system and installing GPS systems in exam vehicles so that there is proof of duration etc. The Road Transport Department is a department with very few staff but they deliver on anything we assign to them, like now with the transport of the people repatriated. The Postal department is also responding. I asked them late at night to deliver small packages to homes due to the measures and they got on it in the morning.
The theoretical exam system for driving licenses will be central. We will have the same system for the theoretical exams for specialised licences issued by the Electrical and Mechanical Services.
We are also planning many changes for the Ministry’s ‘sleeping giant’; the Department of Antiquities. Cyprus’ cultural wealth is massive and we don’t adequately promote it. First off, entrance to museums will be free and they will be open on weekends and close on Mondays. We have 4 million tourists and 1 million locals but the number of visitors to our museums is only 100,000 annually. With the free entrance, we will enrich our tourist product. The Cypriot family man from Nicosia or Ayia Napa will be able to take his children to a museum when they go to Paphos. We will also make souvenirs available for sale online through e-shops and we will make all museum collections digital to offer virtual visits.