Cyprus kick-started its economy on Monday by allowing 25,000 retail shops and the construction sector to resume operation after a six-week coronavirus lockdown.
Strict security measures were evident both in shops and in streets as the authorities vowed to prevent a flare-up of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shop owners and assistants were required to have a mask on and wear gloves. For shoppers inside shops and in streets masks were not mandatory, but the majority still put on masks and gloves as additional personal precaution.
Shop owners in Nicosia’s central Ledra Street, the traditional commercial center of the capital, where thousands used to flock before coronavirus days, voiced uncertainty as people in the street were not up to their usual numbers.
“I don’t expect many customers today, though there are several people walking up and down. Shops in this area depend on people who come to the cafes and walk around, with several of them buying something at the end of the day,” said Nikos Kaplanis, owner of a men’s wear shop.
Tens of cafes and small restaurants in the region remained closed as they are scheduled to reopen during the second phase of easing restrictions in about three weeks’ time.
Some shops that were entitled to open today remained closed during the first day of reopening.
A Ledra street optician said it was unsettling to see closed shops. He ventured an explanation that the shops did not open because the owners could not pay the full rent after staying closed for the best part of two months.
However, in other areas of the city there was a different picture, with customers waiting outside electric items and home appliances shops.
“They were waiting in line like it was Black Friday,” commented a shop assistant from behind his mask.
In an effort to lure customers, most of the shops which opened, mainly selling clothes and shoes, offered their customers discounts of between 20 percent and 50 percent, though this is not a sales period.
Andreas Papadopoulos, the owner of “Papa shoes” shop in a plush area of the capital, said the discounts offered were a move of necessity, as the reopening of the shops coincided with the changeover season.
“We would be replacing winter stock with spring and summer stock at this time of the year. What we offer now is winter stock. But people have the opportunity to buy quality products for less money,” he said.
This was also true for shops selling women’s clothing.
Several shopkeepers said they had spent most of the day taking off old stock and replacing it with summer items in the hope that the coming days will be better than today.
That was the feeling of the owner of a small shop, Christoforos, who is in his 30’s and sells women’s clothing.
“As days go by, people will become accustomed to the new situation and they will get to know how to deal with it. I am optimistic of the future,” he said.
However, a short distance from Ledra Street and its trendy shops, the situation was currently gloomy. This is the traditional Nicosia Center and the Laiki Geitonia or “People’s Neighborhood” with scores of shops and several restaurants and cafes catering to tourists.
Most were closed, with the exception of the odd souvenir shop, which offered their trade to non-existent customers.
“Our customers are tourists, from England, Italy, France, Greece and Russia. It will be a long time before we see any of them,” a woman said while rearranging shelves.
But she added that she preferred to be at work, because she felt worse staying at home.
On the official side, hundreds of policemen who were reinforced by scores of inspectors from other government departments were out in the streets visiting shops to make sure that the assistants complied with regulations and kept their customers down to the maximum number allowed.
With Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou advising people to keep security and hygiene regulations so as to avoid another lockdown, President Nicos Anastasiades sent out a message of optimism.
“A little longer. With prudence, consistency and patience we will make it,” Anastasiades said in a tweet addressed to the people. Enditem