A message from Commander British Forces Cyprus and Administrator of the SBAs Major General Rob Thomson.

It is the May Bank Holiday and, whilst we do not have the freedoms we would wish for, I hope you can enjoy a long weekend and find some to time to relax. I will be on my bike and have a new novel to get stuck into. I also understand that I am on the cooking roster!

First up, I would like to thank everyone here in this ‘One team’ for some outstanding self-discipline at this most challenging of times — it is because of this individual action that our collective shield has been so effective and we should be very proud of the low numbers of cases in the Bases over the last 14 months or so. Where we have had outbreaks, we have responded quickly and effectively and done so collectively.

But this COVID journey is not easy. I too have days of simmering frustration. COVID is debilitating, is not good for morale and places a strain on friendships and relationships, both on island and back home in the UK. Travel is not easy either, although I hope you agree that for those that have needed it the waiver system is working — I have signed nearly 900.

So, thank you for your patience, your resilience and for retaining a sense of perspective. Please read on.

It remains really important to stay in step with the ROC — this virus respects neither boundary nor nationality and there are about 12000 Cypriots who live in the SBAs. It is also worth underlining that we get our Secondary Healthcare in the Republic of Cyprus and the ROC is lab testing all our COVID swabs (10,171 so far). When I have diverged from ROC rules, I have done so to preserve operational effectiveness and we have all benefited from these decisions — keeping schools and gyms open, cookhouses too and the use of Form B within the SBAs.

As I see it, although we are going to have to get used to living life differently, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccination programme rolls out and offers us the hope of greater freedoms. Phase 1 has seen 1,000 of our community already vaccinated, which was an important start. Doses for Phase 2 (all those under 50) arrive on 4 May and the Medics have already organised vaccination appointments for next week. We will, like the UK, prioritise by age. Astra Zeneca for those over 30 and Moderna for those under 30. Ages 40–49 are first in the queue and we hope to have the vast majority of them done next week. I discussed the vaccination programme this morning with Commander Med and we expect almost all of the BFC’s adult population, whatever their age, to have been offered at least their first jab by the end of June. That is only 8 weeks away.

On behalf of us all, I would like to take a moment to extend two particular thank yous — to our medics, who are working really hard for you and me, and to our teaching staff for keeping our schools open, which has been brilliant for both our children and for our families.

So, what’s on the horizon? We will be introducing rapid result Lateral Flow Testing for our community next week, with some clear priorities including teaching staff, and we are working very hard to clarify what is going to be required in the ROC post lockdown after 10th May. We will keep you all updated.

Stepping away from COVID briefly, I am also only too aware of the friction surrounding parcel post and I am very alive to concerns about forthcoming announcements on LOA. I have been raising this issue consistently up the chain of command. I’m very pleased and relieved to say that today we finally received notification from Amazon that they intend to comply with the required customs labelling. These changes should take effect this evening. Do please use this link to help you with any parcel issues: BFPO Parcels.

Finally, it is important to recognise that, despite all the upheaval associated with COVID, we have not missed a beat on our operational tasks (for which you all deserve great credit) and we have even managed some sporting competitions, both real and virtual.

Finally, finally, let me repeat my earlier thanks. I am very proud of how everyone is playing their part in tackling these unprecedented challenges. Thank you for your understanding and support.

There will inevitably be some more road-bumps along the way but, for now, please enjoy your weekend and hang in there.