FILE PHOTO: Tourists walks near the closed Ledra checkpoint of the U.N.-controlled buffer zone, after authorities declared the crossing temporarily shut to curb any potential spread of the new coronavirus in Nicosia, Cyprus February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglouur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus hopes to regain lost ground in its tourism sector from July and expects to be able to re-admit British and Russian visitors by then after weeks of lockdown.

The Mediterranean island moved swiftly to contain the outbreak, ordering a broad lockdown within days of its first registered case on March 9. It started easing it on May 4 and hotels will reopen on June 1.

Tourism accounts for about 13% of output. With five months of the season lost, Cyprus expects, at best, about 30% of last year’s total of 3.98 million visitors.

«The hit is massive, and we are trying to do our best now and do what we can for the remainder of the season. We have worked extremely hard to keep the virus in check here,» Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said.

Cyprus has emerged relatively unscathed by the pandemic. It has reported less than 950 cases, and 17 deaths.

It will open on June 9 to travellers from countries including Germany, Greece and Israel. A group from mainly central Europe will be added on June 20, though Perdios said the list was being reviewed continuously.

«For our important markets like the UK, Russia and Sweden I expect in early July the situation (there) will allow their travel to Cyprus. I am quite optimistic about that,» Perdios said. Britain and Russia alone represent 55% of arrivals.

Authorities have tightened health and safety protocols across the island. Contingency planning included covering the medical costs if a visitor fell ill with COVID-19 and setting up dedicated quarantine hotels, he said.

«We have taken a lot of measures…but at the same time we do understand that people want to come here on holiday so we haven’t converted Cyprus into a massive hospital,» he said.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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