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7pm curfew for bars and restaurants as Govt tightens Covid restrictions after virus spike in run-up to Christmas

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Bars, restaurants and cafes will be required to shut at 7pm under new Covid-19 regulations introduced by the Government in Parliament on Friday afternoon.

The measures come as Gibraltar experienced a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases this week, with more than 100 people testing positive.

The measures came into effect immediately, with restaurants and bars preparing for festive gatherings during what is traditionally their busiest night requiring to shut in the space of less than three hours after the announcement was made.

Last orders will be taken by 6pm, and after that there will be takeaway service only.

In addition, only hotel guests will be served food in hotel restaurants.

Furthermore, no alcohol can be consumed in public places after 7pm on any day.

And on Christmas Eve, no alcohol consumption will be permitted in public places after 4pm.

Samantha Sacramento, Minister for Civil Contingencies, read out the new regulations in Parliament on Friday afternoon as the Government aims to flatten the Covid-19 curve during the festive period.

“It is with a heavy heart that HM Government of Gibraltar has found it necessary to react to the current spike in Covid-19 cases that Gibraltar is experiencing,” she said.

“In the last five days the number of active cases has risen from 42 on December 14, to 120 active cases today. This is an increase of 78 active cases and the total number of new cases in that five-day period is 102.”

The new regulations were discussed during a meeting held on Friday morning, attended by the Minister for Public Health, Dr John Cortes and the Director for Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti.

“One of the motivating factors is not just to stop numbers rising, but we must also remember that the virus has an incubation period of 10 days,” Ms Sacramento said.

“And this brings us to Christmas day when many of us will be planning to visit our families and loved ones.”
“We are putting them at greater risk if we do not curb the spike immediately.”

Ms Sacramento told the house that she hopes that these measures will bring about a reduction in active cases to “ensure our most vulnerable persons is kept safe and our health services are able to cope without a lockdown”.

However she did not rule out further restrictions announced next week if advised.

“Changes in legislation and rules can only take us so far when dealing with Covid-19,” she said, while encouraging people to continue to ensure they are social distancing, especially during this time.

She urged people to follow public health guidelines on handwashing and mask wearing where possible or required.

Ms Sacramento said: “It is extremely difficult for us to have to announce these measures today, particularly as we enter the final week leading up to the Christmas holidays and we realise that they will come as a great disappointment to many.”

“But having discussed the matter today with the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who has also agreed to these measures, we all feel that at this junction, given the prevalence of the virus, it is the right thing to do for the safety for us all.”

“The numbers are clear and cannot be ignored. We must do everything we can to protect others, and in particular the vulnerable and the elderly, especially those who are over 70.”

“It is vital we do all we can to be responsible and flatten the curve, and thereby save lives and bring us as safely as possible to the new year.”

For his part, the GSD’s Elliott Phillips said the party empathises with this statement and appreciated that this must have been a difficult decision for the Government to take.

He said the GSD is “supportive and understanding” of these measures imposed, but called for economic support for those establishments affected by this decision.

“This is a sensitive time for our community, traditionally,” Mr Phillips said.

“Members of our community, old and young, celebrate Christmas very well up and down Main Street and in the bars and restaurants of our community.”

“This will indeed come as a great shock and disappointment to many members of our community, particularly the younger generation, many of which are either back from college, back from university or indeed out celebrating as we speak in this house today.”

He said that while this announcement may be a disappointment for those celebrating the end of the week before Christmas, he urged them to “hear the Minister’s words”.

“But this is likely to have a certain amount of chaotic scenes given the fact that we are three and a half away from 7pm, and restaurants will indeed have to close and those restaurants have been provided with very little notice,” Mr Phillips said.

“These restaurants will have had to procure fresh produce, taken deposits for Christmas parties for businesses, and I would ask the Government to look at ways to compensate these restaurants up and down town and in every part of Gibraltar.”

Mr Phillips said these businesses will “suffer fairly significant losses” over the coming days during the festive period, and called for more “targeted support” for those businesses.

He called the community to pull together and “drive the spike in a downward direction”, saying that health comes first.

In her response to Mr Elliott, Ms Sacramento told the house the Government is “mindful” of the impact that this decision will have on those affected.

“This is not a decision that we have not taken lightly, this is something we monitor on a daily basis, it is something that the Government would very much have wanted to avoid and we most certainly would have wanted to avoid make this announcement at all, let alone make this announcement at this time with immediate effect,” Ms Sacramento said.

“But on the basis of the figures, on the basis of advice and on the basis of the trends that have been predicted, we feel that it is not only the right thing to do but the only thing we can do at this juncture.”

Together Gibraltar leader, Marlene Hassan Nahon, said: “We agree with the measures implemented by Government.”

“As always, we remind the Chief Minister that there is no need to have the ‘more lax restrictions’ he boasts about internationally.”

“We would rather have just as harsh restrictions and easy to follow guidelines and suffer less from the impact of the virus.”

“In any case this response is necessary, as is an emergency aid package for the hospitality sector.”

“These measures have been sprung on a sector that has been one of the most punished, and cannot come empty handed.”