Your Excellency the Ambassador of Cyprus,
1. How does a diplomat and an embassy function in times of isolation due to the COVID- 19 pandemic?
We are, indeed, all facing an unsettling reality and an unpredictable war campaign of ecumenical proportions, and one in which every one of us is called to address a most malicious biological enemy.
This unprecedented pandemic has certainly changed our working methods as Embassies, as it has affected our countries, our communities and our homes. As for everyone else, in Israel, Cyprus and beyond, public health and safety protocols prevail and determine our code of work conduct. As Embassy, we abide religiously with the certainly commendable measures of the Israeli authorities, which I have to note are very similar epidemiologically and timewise, to the ones we are applying in Cyprus with the aim to drastically contain the viral spread. As all Embassies, our Embassy coordinates closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the PMO, the NSC and the Ministry of Health, as well as the rest of the Diplomatic Corps, in assuring that we implement a homogeneous approach to the Israeli government’s measures.
Obviously, Cyprus being an EU member state coordinates very closely and day by day, on embassy policy, consular and other, relevant to the pandemic, topics with the EU delegation and the other EU partners, in order to ensure a generally unified approach. I can even go as far as saying that, in some respects, intercommunication in the diplomatic community and our outreach with Israeli authorities, as well as with local society stakeholders has become more immediate, more frequent and more automatic due to the pandemic.
In that context, I observe that this challenge has nourished a novel sense of camaraderie, via interconnecting us and even bringing us closer together in tackling best this common enemy.
As regards our everyday work, as Embassy we have very quickly introduced and implemented comprehensive telework practices, while the embassy functions with essential on the ground staff that follows a very strict protocol of social distancing and thorough hygiene, including disinfection protocols.
We have also aimed at nourishing our team spirit and our sense of togetherness while supporting each other, something which is vital in times of uncertainty and critical life changes.
For me personally this is all the more important knowing that my husband and family are back in Cyprus on this last 5th year of my assignment in beautiful Israel. I dare share that I feel very moved to read letters from my 8 year old and 6 year old boys, Phaedon and Alexander, inquiring how is “Israel doing with fighting the Corona virus” and asking their dad who is himself a Doctor of Genetics – Virology specialist “whether he has found the potion to kill the virus in Cyprus and Israel”.
2. What kind of changes or adaptations will have to be made in diplomatic relations between countries and the diplomatic profession itself?
Diplomatic work is by definition versatile, “fluid” and with a high level of adaptability or to put it better, agility.
I am proud and grateful to all of my team members for displaying acute work ethos, professionalism, empathy, initiative and leadership in addressing a number of novel work demands.
I’m glad to note that as an Embassy we have quickly adopted a contingency work plan, and transitioned most of our functions to remote work, such as video and tele conferencing methods of communication.
These methods are proving to be satisfactory media of due coordination, during this transient but dynamically changing period, which involves several degrees of lockdown.
The fact that Israel of course displays the highest of standards of high tech applications and communication tools ensured that we could effectively and quickly embark on good direct contact for a number of ongoing projects of cooperation between Cyprus and Israel in tackling the covid-19 pandemic.
3.What are the specific goals of Cyprus diplomacy in Israel in face of the war against the virus?
Our guiding principle is none else than the one which says that “a friend in need is a friend indeed”.
Considering the very close relations enjoyed by our peoples, by our business communities and our political leadership across the board, and making the most of our geographic closeness, we were very early on in a position to identify a plethora of opportunities for partnership in this unchartered war campaign against covid19. In fact, President Nicos Anastasiades has been in direct contact with both President Rivlin and PM Netanyahu a few times in the past few weeks.
No country can beat this war by itself and this is why our Cyprus – Israel nexus of prolific synergies is all the more important in fighting the pandemic of covid-19.
I specifically note that our countries coordinate practically in this collective fight, through for example the Task Force of a group of countries’ health experts, which was initiated by PM Netanyahu a few weeks back. I also highlight the significance of the fact that our Head clinicians have institutionalized a method of exchanging knowledge and best practices with the Sheba team on covid-19 cases, and that our key epidemiologists are sharing relevant data while being enrolled in trial studies of early detection applications.
At the same time I should note that we have been supplying Israel with large numbers of generic Chloroquinone manufactured by Cypriot pharmaceuticals. We have also proceeded with examining the purchase of medical equipment from Israel and looking into the possibility of the route via Ben Gurion airport for repatriation flights back to Cyprus, for which special permission by the Israeli authorities is ensured.
All of the above indicate some practical examples of the immediacy of our close partnership.
4. What is the short and long term impact of the pandemic on the trilateral cooperation Cyprus-Greece- Israel?
From what I can identify through the diversity of our trilateral thematic platforms with Israel and Greece and the regional initiatives that I have been actively involved in, during my five years of assignment to the post of the Ambassador of Cyprus to Israel, I can definitely say that our strategic partnership shall rise from this pandemic stronger and more resilient as ever before.
As you are aware our bilateral and trilateral platforms entail very compact dimensions of cooperation on emergency response and on civil defense matters, be it natural disasters and by extrapolation tackling even a pandemic of colossal proportions.
Likewise, we have been exploring a good number of synergies on Health related issues. It goes without saying that the need to face together and in an interoperable way this profoundly serious health crisis has strengthened our resolute to focus on how best to collectively tackle the pandemic in Cyprus, Israel and beyond.
In this context I have to mention that as an EU partner we pay special attention to EU actions in addressing the covid19 pandemic since European efforts are coordinated at EU level. Cyprus is a staunch supporter of this ongoing concerted coordination taking into account that the Health portfolio of the EU Commission is assigned to Cyprus and hence the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety is the Cypriot Stella Kyriakides.
From a panoramic angle let me say how important it is that the EU is also harnessing its scientific and technological research to fight covid – 19, and to this end has already launched my cooperative projects with Israel. The EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme is using €140 million to fund scientific teams across Europe as well as in partner countries including Israel to help find a vaccine to covid-19 quickly. Cyprus naturally strongly supports and aims to contribute to improving diagnostics, preparedness, clinical management and treatment.
5. Do you have a message to the Israeli people at a time of war against the COVID- 19 common enemy?
My message to our partners, the people of Israel and my many Israeli friends, like Ambassador Yitzak Eldan and many members of the Ambassadors’ club, whom I thank immensely for checking on me to see how I’m doing during these times of encompassing challenge, is one of solidarity and togetherness. This is where our strength of response lies. All of us together, in synergy, shall persevere and overcome through this unidentified war terrain.
It goes without saying that Cyprus as a close neighbor but also as a close ally of Israel, continues and shall continue to stand ready to reciprocate assistance in tackling this pandemic, with every possible means, in the known spirit of unwavering solidarity that connects our two countries and our peoples.
I would, in this context, like to reach out in gratitude to every professional in the medical, health and other involved fields, who is, with dedicated compassion, sacrifice, courage and grit, spearheading the fight to curb the viral spread. We thank you – Toda Raba – Efxaristo poly!
Finally, I would like to extend my sincere wishes to all our Israeli friends for health, wellbeing and strength during this meaningful time of Passover and Easter.
Together we shall prevail, stronger and more resilient than ever. ??
I assure you that as soon as we jointly manage to effectively keep at bay this destructive health threat, your neighboring Cyprus will await each one of you and our loved ones, for a much deserved short break, with open arms!
Thessalia Salina Shambos
Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus
to the State of Israel.