Daily Press Review - 23-24/2/2019

ΠΟΛΙΤΗΣ NEWS Δημοσιεύθηκε 25.2.2019
  Daily Press Review - 23-24/2/2019
As the procedures for the completion of Hellenic Bank's (HB) share capital increase enter the final stretch, all eyes are on the new correlation of forces that will emerge among the bank's shareholders, Phileleftheros-Forbes reports.

In the press last weekend and today:

Banks – Counting their… rights

As the procedures for the completion of Hellenic Bank’s (HB) share capital increase enter the final stretch, all eyes are on the new correlation of forces that will emerge among the bank’s shareholders, Phileleftheros-Forbes reports. The process, which is scheduled to be completed on 18 March, will inevitably lead to a reshuffling of the bank’s shareholder structure, even though there will be just one new major shareholder: the American Pimco investment fund. Even though a keen interest was also expressed by Emma Alpha Holding Ltd, which belongs to the Emma Group which is one of the main shareholders of OPAP, it appears that there will not be many pre-emptive rights left for it to acquire and become one of the bank’s main shareholders. This is unless it manages to acquire pre-emptive rights or shares of other organisations during the negotiating period, which do not wish to continue having a stake in the bank. But whether it acquires rights or not, Emma is still a winner as it stands to receive just under €2.5m after having guaranteed the bank’s rights issue. The article highlights how there is strong interest in what Wargaming is intending to do. Even though in previous months there was a negative feel to rumours regarding Wargaming’s presence in HB’s share structure, the gaming company was still expected to participate in the capital increase and exercise its pre-emptive rights. If this is the case, its stake in the bank will drop to 21.6%, from 24.9%. However, there is a strong possibility that it will turn into the bank’s biggest shareholder, as it appears that current main shareholder Third Point (TP), which has a 26.2% stake, will not exercise its preference rights due to lack of capital, which would limit its stake to 12.5%. There is another scenario that TP will sell some of its pre-emptive rights and use the funds to purchase the rest; but the author describes this as far-fetched. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what Demetra Investment will do; it is considered a given that it will exercise its pre-emptive rights, which would reduce its stake to 8.8%; however, it is also expected to acquire rights during the negotiating period, while it also has first dabs in acquiring preference rights that will not be exercised by other shareholders. Overall, Demetra can invest up to €50m. It has priority up until its stake reaches 20.1%, which would require an investment of €44.1m. Demetra has the potential to increase its stake to 22.14%. EBRD is not expected to exercise its pre-emptive rights, which will limit its share in the bank to 5.4%. Whatever happens, the changes are expected to change the power balance at the bank, with the Third Point-Wargaming duo no longer topping the list.

Wrangling over the rights

Third Point investment fund has been doing some serious wrangling behind the scenes over its pre-emptive rights in the Hellenic Bank share capital increase, Simerini reports citing exclusive sources. More specifically, the newspaper claims that TP hired private investment service provider Axia Ventures Group Ltd to approach potential investors to sell its rights. The paper learns that Axia has already approached Demetra Investment and asked for an offer to purchase TP’s rights, as well as Emma Alpha, which has expressed a strong desire to participate in Hellenic’s new share capital with a stake of up to 9%. The report claims the two did not give an offer for strategic reasons; though they expressed their intention to acquire the rights. Axia is also expected to feel out Wargaming in the coming days, which wants to maintain or even increase its influence over the bank’s Board of Directors. If Wargaming acquires TP’s rights, it will increase its stake from 24.8% to almost 30%; if it doesn’t, its share will be limited to 20.5%. Things will become clear on 18 March, according to HB’s prospectus, which has been approved by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC).

Third Point passing the baton to another fund

Third Point’s investment activity in Cyprus is close to wrapping, with its intentions to divest being indicative of this, Kathimerini Economy reports. Citing sources, the paper writes that TP intends to sell its pre-emptive rights in the upcoming share capital increase at HB. It says that stock market sources said that the American investment fund’s decision to divest from Cyprus is evident and rumours that circulated in 2018 over its intention to stand down from its investment in HB will be confirmed in 2019. TP’s 26.2% stake in the bank is expected to drop to 11%-12% following the capital increase, with its next move expected to be to sell its share to an existing shareholder or one of the new shareholders that will participate in the share capital increase. Emma Alpha Holding is the most likely to buy TP’s shares, the paper reports.

Hellenic is selling prime commercial plots

APS Cyprus, which manages HB customers’ NPLs, has some prime commercial properties on its portfolios, as well as properties that were acquired through debt-to-property swaps. According to the Hellenic – APS website, among these properties is the well-known Iacovides Tower at the centre of Nicosia, which has six floors and two underground car parks. The ground floor is used as a restaurant/wedding reception area. The rest of the floors are used as offices by corporations and government departments. Those interested to invest are invited to submit offers.

Co-op assets are worth €600m

The assets of the Co-operative Asset Management Company (SEDIPES) comprise 2,815 property titles in the government-controlled areas, worth a total of around €600m, according to data submitted to the House Finance Committee by Finance Minister Harris Georgiades. SEDIPES and state asset management company KEDIPES also own 148 properties in the occupied areas. Georgaides was responding to a question by the Committee’s chairman over what the plans were for the former Co-op’s assets, while he also provided details on the assets and how the government intended to manage them. Of the assets, 113 are mainly commercial properties and shops totalling around €150m are available for Hellenic Bank to acquire until 3 September 2019. Following its acquisition of the Co-op, HB acquired 12 properties (13 property titles) worth a total of €47m.

Loans totalling €10m to innovative businesses

Bank of Cyprus in cooperation with the European Investment Bank has signed an important agreement for Cypriot businesses. The bank will grant loans totalling €10m to innovative businesses, through the European InnovFin programme. The aim is to finance the amounts spent by Cypriot businesses on promoting innovation, so that new or existing companies can remain competitive.  The loans will provide more favourable terms, as they will also be guaranteed by EIB. The loans can range from between €25,000 and €500,000, with a duration of 12 to 120 months.

Regulating digital currencies

The Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) has recommended that cryptocurrencies are added to its supervisory duties, as part of the effort that is currently underway to update the laws on anti-money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The CySEC’s aim is to be able to deal with all possible risks that may emerge from the availability of such innovative products. The Commission encourages innovation and has created a special Innovation Hub in its bid to contribute towards incorporating innovation into the financial sector. However, it has stressed the need for the inclusion of safety clauses and the introduction of the appropriate legal and supervisory framework, that will avert the possibility of these innovative products being used for money laundering or the financing of terrorism.

Ultimatum from the EC

The government is making a serious effort to avoid being sanctioned by the European Commission due to its failure to comply with the European directive on preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism. It has submitted a bill that was approved last Wednesday by the Council of Ministers to the House amending the relevant national law. The government received a letter by the EC on January 25, warning it that the Republic had two months to harmonise with the directive, otherwise it would face sanctions without the possibility of appealing them to the EU courts.

A titanic operation

Cyprus is under immense pressure by the US to “rid” the island of Russian businessmen, Kathimerini comments. It says law firms have been targeted in an unprecedented way, a good example of this being a firm that had a number of Russian clients, including one that has come under intense scrutiny by US media. The firm’s well-known owner has been warned that it would be dangerous for him to travel to the US as he was at risk of being arrested, said the paper’s sources. So, he convened a meeting with his associates and with a heavy heart decided to cancel his cooperation with eight of his oligarch clients. A source close to the firm owner told the paper that “It was like he was shelling his own office”. He further described the whole effort underway by the US as a “titanic operation” to oust Russians from Cyprus.

Where are the Russians going?

In another commentary, Kathimerini writes that the question is where the “big Russians” are moving the money they are withdrawing from Cyprus. The paper’s source says they are opting for Singapore and Dubai. The paper also learns that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is preparing to launch a Russian industrial zone near the Suez area, following his trilateral meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. El-Sisi also stated this publicly after meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Cairo recently. In fact, the two discussed and agreed to the inclusion of Egypt in the Eurasian Economic Union, which will also be joined soon by Kirgizstan, and which also counts Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia as members. Putin and el-Sisi also announced plans to create a nuclear station in Egypt, which they said would be for peace purposes.

Unemployment falls to 7.6% in Q4

Unemployment in Cyprus fell to 7.6% in the 4th quarter of 2018, from 7.8% in the 3rd quarter, according to the labour force survey by the Statistical Service. The labour force in the 4th quarter of 2018 numbered 440,765, or 62.5% of the population (males 68.5%, females 57.0%), in comparison with 428,291, or 61.6%, in the corresponding quarter of 2017. The number of employed persons was 407,382 and the employment rate 57.8% (males 63.3%, females 52%) in comparison with 384,911 or 55.3%, in the corresponding quarter of 2017.

 The most expensive and cheapest areas to rent

Phileleftheros Economy presents a survey by Danos and Associates, member of the BNP Paribas Real Estate international organisation, with the most expensive and cheapest areas in Cyprus to rent. The survey has pinpointed neighbourhoods where one can rent an abode from €350 to €1,500 a month. Eastern Limassol is found to be the most expensive area to rent across Cyprus, with monthly rates ranging from between €600 and €1,000. The Nicosia suburb Engomi is the most expensive to rent a good quality, one-bedroom apartment with an average monthly rate of €500. The cheapest rates were recorded in Paphos; a one-bedroom flat in Geroskipou, Peyia, Polis Chrysochous, Agios Theodoros, Agios Pavlos, Anavargos and Moutallos has an average rental rate of €350. The average rate for a two-bedroom flat in Paphos’ centre is €450.

Limassol rents just following laws of the free market

Article on the rising rent prices in Limassol by Yiannis Misirlis, the founding director of the Imperio Group, Deputy Chairman of the Cyprus Land and Building Developers Association, Board member of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) and Chairman of the Real Estate Committee of CCCI. He says among other that in a free market environment, such as the current real estate market of Cyprus, the forces of supply and demand interact. In Limassol in particular, the big picture is clear: on the one hand you have a limited supply of available housing due to the stagnation of the construction industry from 2012 to 2015, on the other hand Limassol has attracted hundreds of foreigners employed by businesses in the city, as well as hundreds of university students enrolled at TEPAK, all seeking to rent homes, as the banks’ stringent requirements make it very difficult for potential buyers to obtain a mortgage. The result is a significantly higher demand for rental housing than in other towns.

€30m sum from the CCB to the Banks’ Fund

A sum of around €30m went to the banks’ deposit guarantee fund following the termination of the Cyprus Co-operative Bank’s operations and the transfer of its deposits to Hellenic Bank, Haravgi reports. The CBC also paid the contribution for the deposits that were moved. Up until August 2018, when the Co-op was in operation, there were two deposit guarantee funds; one for the CCB and one for the banks. The funds’ members submitted annual contributions, with the aim of gradually and up until July 2024 creating a reserve that would cover 0.8% of guaranteed deposits (of below €100,000). There were €22.7m deposited in the Co-op’s fund, from contributions that were made from 2014 until 2017. But when Hellenic acquired the CCB’s deposits, these funds were moved to the banks’ guarantee fund. Furthermore, the Co-op agreed to pay another €6.6m for the portfolio that was transferred to Hellenic. So, in total, the CCB deposited €29.3m to the banks’ deposit guarantee fund. With the above in mind, it is estimated that the banks’ deposit guarantee fund has already covered over 50% of the supervisory authorities’ target for the creation of 0.8% reserves up until 2024. According to recent data by the European Banking Authority, by the end of 2017, there were €16.8b’s worth of guaranteed deposits (under €100,000) in the banks’ fund and €9.4b in the Co-op fund. The banks contributed €65.6m to their fund while the Co-op contributed €22.7m. The EBA is next expected to announce data on the banks’ fund halfway through the second quarter of the year.

Five criteria for the Co-op assets

The Finance Ministry has set specific financial and other criteria that need to be met for Co-op assets to be conceded to municipalities and communities. According to the letter that was submitted by Finance Minister Harris Georgiades to the House last week, the Council of Ministers has assigned a special technical committee the task of assessing the applications that are submitted to acquire Co-op assets, taking into account five main criteria: the value of each asset; the potential to sell or use the asset commercially; the proposed use for the asset; the existence of alternative options, and; how important the asset is to the local community. Scores of municipalities and communities have already applied to the former Co-op and/or Finance Minister, asking for properties to be handed over for public use. However, the criteria that have been set will most likely see the majority of applications rejected. Some are also being looked at to house government and other state services, which are currently using old and unsuitable buildings, or renting. The former Co-op owns 2,815 properties worth a total of €600m. The list includes 606 commercial plots, of which 498 are available, nine are being used by KEDIPES/SEDIPES and 99 are being used by Hellenic Bank, which has the right to purchase them. There are also 53 farming plots and 282 residential properties.

140 commercial properties in Larnaca and Famagusta worth €553m

There are 140 commercial properties belonging to the former Co-op in Larnaca and Famagusta, worth €553m. There are also another 54 commercial properties worth €12.6m in the Troodos district. In Larnaca, there are 109 properties worth €40.5m, of which 15 are being used by Hellenic Bank. In Famagusta, there are 31 commercial properties worth €14.8m, of which one is being used by KEDIPES/SEDIPES and another six by Hellenic. Of the 54 commercial properties in the Troodos district, three are being used by HB.

194 commercial properties in Limassol and Paphos worth €100.8m

There are 194 commercial properties belonging to the former Co-op in the Limassol and Paphos districts, worth €100.8m. In Limassol there are 96 commercial properties worth €72.1m, of which two are being used by KEDIPES/SEDIPES and 21 by Hellenic. In Paphos, there are 98 commercial properties worth €28.7m, of which three are being used by KEDIPES/SEDIPES and seven by Hellenic.

This is what the Co-op was

Haravgi newspaper comments that the list with the 2,815 properties belonging to the Co-op serves as a reminder for all about what the Co-op was and how important it was, especially to people in the rural areas. And it says it is not referring to their financial value but their sentimental value, which is priceless. All municipalities and communities have a Co-op property. In fact, many of these were acquired through the savings of the residents themselves, says the paper. The same goes for the majority of buildings, which were built by the builders and farmers. The list includes 606 commercial properties, 53 agricultural properties (such as warehouses and wineries), 282 residential properties, 1,030 land plots and 844 farming plots. The paper laments that there are plenty of banks; but there was only one Co-op which was much more than just a bank.

Award for Cyprus’ response to the fires and floods and Greece

The NGO REACTION in cooperation with the Bank of Cyprus took immediate action and set in motion an Emergency Response Plan to relieve those affected by the 2017 and 2018 floods and wildfires in Greece. The “By Greece’s Side” programme was implemented with the support of the Cypriot public and DHL Express Cyprus, Aegean Airlines and Cobalt Air. REACTION and BoC received the “Response to Emergency” award at the Responsible Business Awards 2019 on 21 February in Athens.

Strategic Cooperation Agreement between Kinisis Ventures Ltd and IDEA Innovation Centre

Kinisis Ventures Ltd and IDEA Innovation Centre recently signed an agreement to promote innovative start-ups and entrepreneurship in Cyprus. Kinisis recent organised a hugely successful conference where it presented the prospects for start-ups in Cyprus expanding to the US. The conference took place at the Bank of Cyprus and was attended among other by the US Ambassador to Cyprus.

Government wants dividend from EAC

The Council of Ministers recently decided to restore a legal provision that allows the state to receive a dividend from the reserves of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus. According to the Finance Ministry, the EAC’s reserves in 2017 were enough to bring the provision back into effect. In other words, once the relevant bill is approved by the House, the state will collect part of the EAC’s surplus of the preceding financial year, but also a share of its amassed surpluses. The EAC’s profitability has continued unhindered over the past few years (according to a decision by the Cyprus Energy Regulatory Authority, the return on capital is around 4.6%), and according to data submitted by the Finance Ministry, the Authority’s reserves reached €1.3b in 2017, compared with €0.7m in 2007.

Issue of credit brokers for properties destined for residential use re-emerges

The House is being called to re-examine the issue of credit brokers for properties that are destined for residential use. According to a letter sent by the Finance Ministry to the House, the EU has spotted omissions in the transposition of the relevant directive into national law. In fact, Cyprus has just a few days to correct this, as next Thursday, 7 March, the European Commission will examine whether to take legal action against the Republic for its delay in harmonising with the directive and impose a fine.

Chinese tax evaders chased in Cyprus too

The Chinese government has recently launched a manhunt to track down Chinese tycoons who have not been paying their taxes across the globe, including Cyprus. Chinese media are reporting that rich Chinese businessmen are taking advantage of citizenship-by-investment and permanent residency schemes, like those offered by countries such as Cyprus. Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese investors have been employing specific methods and tactics to avoid paying their taxes, while Chinese media has been reporting that the country’s authorities are taking stricter measures. By implementing a Common Reporting Standard (CRS), which aims at the exchange of information between various countries’ authorities to determine citizens’ tax data, it has emerged that a significant number of Chinese tycoons are guilty of tax evasion. According to the CRS, if a Chinese businessman opens a bank account in Cyprus, the Cypriot authorities are obliged to inform the Chinese authorities and vice versa.

Recognition via UNFICYP

The occupying regime has started implementing a plan to upgrade the pseudo-state, Phileleftheros reports. The move has clearly been in the works for a while now, going by the statements of Ankara favourite, so-called ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay. The paper says it is clear that Turkey’s aim is to upgrade the occupied areas and establish them as an equal counterpart to the Republic of Cyprus. In a document sent to the UN on 31 January, Turkey claims that the Turkish Cypriot side has repeatedly stressed the need to form a formal agreement/framework that regulates and defines the relationship between UNFICYP and the Republic of Cyprus, which could be in the form of a status of forces agreement (SOFA) or another mutually accepted form that has been achieved with the consent of UNFICYP and the Turkish Cypriot ‘authorities’. It also wants UNFICYP’s mandate to be redefined, and its role turned from military to police.

New hotel in the works

Politis reports that there seems like the abandoned and looted hotel Eva, located in the heart of the tourist area of Oroklini, will be demolished and a new hotel be created in its place. The hotel, which has remained abandoned y over 10 years, and stands next to luxury hotel units and other tourist businesses in the Larnaca-Dhekelia road, will be demolished by its owners. They submitted an application for demolition a few months ago, while around one and a half months ago, the owners submitted an application to the Town-Planning department for the construction of a new 3-star hotel in the same location. According to the same source, Larnaca’s District Administration is waiting for the construction permit. the Oroklini Community Council welcome the new effort to erect a new hotel in the area, saying that it is a positive development for the area.

Larnaca deserves to be supported in tourism

The Deputy Minister of Tourism, Savvas Perdios said that Laranca has a noteworthy power in the tourism sector, in a meeting with the Larnaca Tourism Development Company which was held on 21 February. In his first contact with the bod, the Deputy Minister was informed about the main issues that the tourism industry is facing. The president of the Company, Dinos Lefkaritis informed Perdios on the 5 main infrastructure projects that are pending, which are the longstanding issue of the construction of the Larnaca-Dhekelia road (fase c and d which have been pending for 30 years). Another issue is the scheduled transfer of the petroleum and natural gas facilities and the restoration of the area as well as the urgent need for the creation of breakwaters in the Oroklini, Pyla and Pervolia areas, where extreme corrosion has been observed. Another issue is the creation of a single marina-port and the delays in the promotion of Larnaca’s antiquities.

ACTA: same number of tourists as last year

Tourist arrivals this year will be kept at the same levels as last year, according to the president of the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents, Vasilis Stamataris. Speaking to CNA, he said that the industry’s goal this year, is to keep the same arrivals that were recorded in 2018 and 2017, even though the winter period didn’t show a positive outlook for the sector. Stamataris reported that the tourism industry has received some delayed bookings, which show that in the end of the day, bookings will be the same levels as last year and the year before. Referring to the tourism exhibition in March which will be held in Germany, he said that the loss of GERMANIA will become even more evident. He reported that it is a difficult period for Cypriot tourism and the main element is to find and replace routes so that the current markets aren’t affected. The president of ACTA said that the Deputy Ministry of Tourism, in cooperation with all the involved parties of the tourist industry is concentrating its efforts and activities, in order to cushion any shake-ups in the market. He reported that the Deputy Ministry of Tourism will hold meetings next week to discuss the situation.

Casino both a curse and a blessing

Haravgi reports that while the government and other economic actors consider the creation of the casino as a basic element of the investment and development course of Cyprus, there is also another side to the coin. The article reports that the casino is creating a series of social problems, such as family breadwinners gambling away their daily income. Furthermore, the article reports, the temporary casino in Limassol has created a series of problems in Zakaki, since it has changed the culture and image of the area. While traffic has increased in the working-class area of Limassol, the residents’ reality is completely different leading them to talk about the casino as both a curse and a blessing. One of the basic problems they are facing, has to do with the cars owned by the dozens of casino visitors. They shut off the entrance of houses for many hours and even park inside people’s yards. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that some people who visit the casino don’t want to be seen and park quite far from the casino. The article reports that the casino parking lot is not enough to cover the needs, especially on Wednesdays, Fridays and Weekends when more people visit the casino. The article goes on to say that apart from the parking problem, people living around the casino are also bothered by the noise in the early hours. The article mentions that casino players, often speak loudly or yell because they lost their money and slam their car doors shut. Another problem that the affected residents report is the noise created by the casino workers when at 3am they throw away their trash in the bins with the help of iron trolleys. The article also reports on another major socioeconomic problem which is the sudden and dramatic increase of rent prices. As it was reported, one-bedroom apartments cost €800 per month and 2-bedroom apartments reach €1.200 or even more, and as a result they are not affordable by low-income families. It was also reported that some landlords have seized the money-making opportunity and are evicting tenants, who for financial reasons, cannot respond to their rent obligation. The landlords sometimes explain their move by saying that they need their house back so that they or their family members can live in it.

Police operation against illegal gambling

The Police’s Crime Prevention Department in Paphos, proceeded to a coordinated operation, searching a residence which they suspected was carrying out illegal gambling operations. The police found and confiscated 5 PCs, which can be turned in to slot machines and which had authorised copies of software installed. They also found 5 screens, 5 keyboards and 5 computer mice. The owner of the residence was interrogated in writing by the Police and was later let go by the Police, which is still waiting for evidence.

The stress of addiction

Politis’ article reports on a European Commission study, which analysed information from 7 countries, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, France, Denmark and the Netherland, which said that online gambling is the main source of addiction in young people. For older people, addiction mostly relates to gambling, while men are generally more affected by the problem. It is important to note that prevention programs in schools were very effective. The article goes on to report on 4 categories of gambling addiction symptoms.

Obstacles in implementation of agreement with government

The German Oncology Centre said that there were obstacles in the implementation of a state agreement with regards to servicing patients in Limassol and Paphos, in the framework of a visit by the Minister of Health, Constantinos Ioannou. The Minister gave assurances that he will personally take up the matter. He added that the Ministry is looking into the matter and is trying to solve the problems that emerged.The minister reminded the government has reached an agreement with the organisation since last June, for the provision of services to cancer patients, providing patients in Limassol and Paphos with radiotherapy treatments, as well as treatments that up until recently were not offered in Cyprus, such as PET/CT Scan. He said that he is impressed by the facilities and the centre’s equipment, adding that they deserve to be congratulated for this project, which is unique in Cyprus. He also expressed his satisfaction that the Centre intends to join the GHS.

Support state hospitals in order to support GHS

The President of the State Doctors Union (PASYKI), Sotiris Koumas has clarified the state doctors’ position, stating that doctors demand investment in state hospitals. They request additional funding in order to better equip hospitals, buy and install equipment and update their current equipment so that public hospitals are powerful and the GHS becomes stronger. He goes on to say that if state hospitals had been supported and operated as they should, the obstacles with the GHS’ implementation would not exist. Koumas said that it is important that the public sector is supported. He added that the hospitals and the state’s infrastructure must be supported, with regards to all levels and aspects of healthcare. Koumas added, that in three months, primary healthcare will be offered through the GHS. Before this takes place some things need to change. For example, computers are now being installed so that doctors gain access to GHS software. Doctors need to get used to this system. Furthermore, First Aid and Emergency Departments must be organised correctly in order to cover the needs.

 Medical societies dismiss claims of CyMA manipulation

The vast majority of medical societies explicitly dismissed claims of manipulation by the leadership of the Cyprus Medical Association (CyMA), and declared that they will not be making any agreements with the state for their participation in the National Health Scheme (Gesy) if all demands of the association are not met. In an extraordinary meeting on Saturday between CyMA’s medical board (SIS) and representatives of the majority of medical societies, the latter proclaimed their firm support for CyMA’s long-standing positions regarding Gesy. The demands made by CyMA following an extraordinary general assembly in October last year involve allowing private doctors within Gesy to practice outside the system; increasing the Gesy budget; full administrative and financial autonomy of state hospitals before Gesy is implemented; a guaranteed unit price for specialist doctors involved in outpatient care; and inpatient fees per medical procedure.

More flu vaccines have arrived

The Ministry of Health has announced that a new batch of flu vaccines has arrived and it will be made available to the public in state pharmacies on Monday, 25 February 2019. Priority is given to vulnerable groups of the population that have not been vaccinated for seasonal flu in 2018-2019. Vulnerable groups of the population include people over 65 years of age, elderly people staying in supported housing, children and adults suffering from chronic lung or cardiovascular diseases, people suffering from kidney disease, people suffering from metabolic conditions such as diabetes, HIV, immunosuppressed persons, sickle cell anaemia or other haemoglobinopathy as well as children and adolescents who need long-term aspirin treatment and pregnant women who have already went through the first quarter.

A new blood test detects breast cancer

In 2018, about 627,000 women in the world died from breast cancer. That made up 15% of all cancer deaths for the year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists hope that this figure will drop in the future, as German researchers have developed a test to improve early breast cancer detection. Medical researchers at the Heidelberg University Hospital in southern Germany say they have created a blood test that can reliably pick up whether a patient has breast cancer. Early diagnosis: These five cancer screenings are recommended  The test, called HeiScreen, can detect cancer in the blood even before it becomes visible to current scanning technology, Christof Sohn, managing medical director of Heidelberg University Women's Hospital, who led the research, said in a statement. Early diagnosis is crucial to bringing down breast cancer death rates and ensuring patients get timely treatment. With early detection, patients have a 95% chance of fully recovering. The test is not designed to completely replace conventional forms of diagnosis, however. Currently, the main screening methods for breast cancer are mammograms, ultrasounds and MRI scans. HeiScreen, the researchers say, will complement these existing methods while being "much less of a burden on women" because it isn't painful, costs less and comes without exposure to radiation. They say it can also be used to detect ovarian cancer. The blood-based test also offers a viable alternative for people who have dense mammary gland tissue and can't get effective results from mammograms, as well as for those who can't undergo traditional forms of clinical examinations for medical reasons. Only a few milliliters of blood are needed for the test, which can be carried out by general practitioners. Researchers are hoping the non-invasive procedure will encourage more women to be tested.

Cannabis listed as a pharmaceutical product

Phileleftheros reports that cannabis is now listed as a pharmaceutical product as a palliative tool that will reduce pain and treat symptoms in patients. After parliament passed a bill on the medical use of cannabis, any doctor can prescribe cannabis for medical reasons under certain conditions. At the same time, there is no limitation with regards to dosage or diseases, since the disease list has been abolished. Through the legislation, Cyprus will be able to cultivate cannabis for pharmaceutical purposes, while it can also import and export the product. Medical cannabis can be prescribed by any doctor as long as he has been trained by the Competent Authority. With the approved amendments, the number of permits that will be approved by the state for cannabis cultivation was increased to three. Furthermore, the fee for the issuance of a medical cannabis production license has increased from €15.00 to €500.000, while the fee for the renewal of the license climbed from €2.000 to €30.000.

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