In this photo taken on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, beachgoers walk on a nearly deserted stretch of Makronissos beach in the seaside resort of Ayia Napa, Cyprus, a favorite spot among tourists from Europe and beyond.

Photo by AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Cyprus on Friday, May 22, outlined plans for the phased resumption next month of commercial flights from a select number of countries with low COVID-19 infection rates to jump-start its vital tourism sector. Transport minister Yiannis Karousos said flights will begin in two phases—June 9 and 20—from two groups of countries selected by an advisory body of medical experts.

The first group is comprised of Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia, and Lithuania. The second group is made up of Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. The list excludes the country’s two main tourism markets, former colonial ruler Britain and Russia.

Karousos said starting June 9, passengers arriving from countries in either group must obtain three days prior to departure a health certificate confirming that they are virus-free. Starting June 20, passengers from the first group of countries won’t need health certificates, but those from the second group will still be required to obtain them.

Aircraft arriving from any country not included in either group will only be permitted to carry Cypriot citizens or foreign nationals who permanently reside in Cyprus, or anyone who has been granted special permission. These passengers will also have to obtain a health certificate three days prior to departure. They can opt to be tested in Cyprus but will have to stay in self-isolation for one day in designated accommodation.

Passengers arriving from any other country are required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. Anyone arriving from countries that don’t have labs capable of conducting specialized tests for the virus can be tested in Cyprus. Passengers will have to cover costs relating to testing, quarantine accommodations, or transport.

Karousos said hotels that have been shuttered since a strict stay-at-home order was imposed in late March, and lifted earlier this week, will open their doors on June 1. More countries will be added to the two groups in the coming days, the minister said. Tourism officials said medical experts will assess the course of the pandemic in the U.K. and Russia before flights from those countries can begin.

Cyprus took a major step toward a return to normality on Thursday, May 21, when most restrictions of a two-month stay-at-home order were lifted.

Photo by AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Marketing its year-round sunny skies, pristine beaches, and Mediterranean cuisine to entice holidaymakers, Cyprus relies heavily on tourism. The sector directly accounts for 13 percent of the east Mediterranean island nation’s gross domestic product.

Government tourism officials estimate that the country will lose 70 percent of the initially anticipated 2.6 billion euros (US$2.83 billion) tourism-generated revenues this year. Authorities are eager to get hotels and other businesses up and running to keep unemployment numbers from spiking and to buttress a still fragile economic recovery from a 2013 financial crisis that almost bankrupted the country.

But health officials insist that the resumption of flights and the arrival of foreign travelers won’t be allowed to jeopardize Cyprus’s so-far successful handling of the pandemic. To date, Cyprus—with a population of around 880,000—has reported 927 confirmed coronavirus infections and 17 deaths.

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Menelaos Hadjicostis