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After a busy weekend outside, Govt urges common sense as it eases Covid-19 regulations

OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Main Street traders donned protective gear at the weekend as they reopened their doors to shoppers. Although the area was busy, most people sought to adhere to social distancing rules, but the large number of people also raised concerns about social distancing and complacency in the face of a virus that is still a threat to this community. Photo by Stephen Ignacio

by Priya Gulraj

The Government of Gibraltar yesterday called for responsibility from individuals as it reflected on the first weekend after lockdown measures were eased slightly.

People over the age of 70 were allowed to leave their homes for exercise after weeks indoors, and shops and other businesses opened for the first time on Saturday subject to strict safety measures.

“We are starting to unlock the lockdown in a way that is controlled so that we can measure its impact and it will be reviewed over short periods,” the Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, said during yesterday’s 4pm press conference at No.6 Convent Place.

“But our unlocking measures must be gradual for them to be effective and to avoid our services from being overwhelmed should a surge occur.”

“This does not mean that the lockdown is over, the lockdown continues and is very much in place.”

“Our message to you is the same, do not leave home unless you must absolutely do so.”

Ms Sacramento was speaking against the backdrop of concern about the large number of people who were outdoors during the weekend.

On Saturday as shops reopened, there were large crowds on Main Street and while most people sought to adhere to social distancing rules, others appeared to let their guard down.

Taking to social media and tweeting an image of a busy Main Street on Saturday morning, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Richard Ullger, said: “Gibraltar this was not meant to happen today.” 

He added: “This is not helping our Royal Gibraltar Police officers at all and is certainly not going to save lives. We are not out of the woods yet so please stay home and save lives and only do the essentials.” 

That sentiment was echoed in part on Sunday by the Commissioner of Police, Ian McGrail, who envisaged more challenges for policing as restrictions are lifted in the coming days and weeks.

Appearing alongside Ms Sacramento at the press conference, Mr McGrail expressed concern that people had used the government’s decision to ease measures in a phased manner as an “opportunity to push through a false sense of security that everything is back to normal, when it is not.” 

He said: “In a way, policing of the stricter, earlier versions of the regulations has been easier to manage.”

“With the gradual lifting of the restrictions, I envisage more challenges for policing, challenges from members of the public who push boundaries of what Public Health Gibraltar and Government are trying to achieve.”

“We cannot for a moment lose sight that the existing measures and their gradual unlocking are considered and implemented on public health and economic advice.”

“During the easing of restrictions, I would ask you not to feel sour that it is the police who are telling you what is and what is not allowed.”

“We are the tool that gives effect to what the law states on the advice of Public Health and economists.”

“It seems that the more often people go out, the more complacent some seem to be,” Ms Sacramento added.

Ms Sacramento said shoppers can go to a shop to buy what they need but advised them to go alone, or encouraged them to make use of the many online delivery services offered by Gibraltar’s traders in the wake of the lockdown.

As for hairdressers and barbers, she reminded people to make an appointment beforehand to avoid waiting outside the premises or loitering in town.

She said breaches of the law have consequences, adding: “These rules are in place to limit the number of people who are out, as well as for the safety of the staff in the establishments.”

“Now is not the time to let down your guard – you do not relax and let down your guard when you are at war.”

“This is no different, we are at war with an invisible enemy and we must not let the enemy get the better of us.”

She said Gibraltar as a community has “done very well so far” and asked people to continue following the rules.

“Please do not make it harder for the [RGP] than it already is during these challenging times under lockdown rules,” Ms Sacramento said.

“They are there to enforce a law which is for our collective benefit and it is designed to save lives.”

“This is the time to respect the law, not to try and find loopholes in it or to try and cheat it.”

“If you try to abuse or break the rules, you are not clever, you are being irresponsible and you are likely to be putting the rest of us at risk and, not least, will result in adding pressure to the GHA services unnecessarily, think about that carefully.”

Ms Sacramento said this is a process, and people must be “responsible” if they want this process to succeed.

On Saturday, Health Minister Paul Balban signalled that the Gibraltar Government would not hesitate to reconsider its exit plans if people failed to respect social distancing rules and limit their excursions solely to those allowed under the Covid-19 regulations.

“If people aren’t observing the laws and the rules that we’ve imposed on social distancing etc, then we’ll need to reconsider and see what we do,” he said. 

“But this is just the first day and we expect that, come next week, things will be more normal.” 

Speaking at the daily press conference Mr Balban said: “The law sets out clearly that we are still in lockdown, we are only allowed to go outdoors to exercise, go to work or shop at certain establishments.”

“We will be slowly returning to a more normal life in terms of what we can do, but for the moment, going to the beach and sitting on a towel is not exercise.”

“Driving to the beach, parking your car and sitting on the sand is not exercise, but driving there if absolutely necessary or preferably walking or cycling there and perhaps taking a swim and then walking, cycling or driving back is exercise.” 

“We need to be sensible,” he said adding: “Because the effects of our actions today only manifest themselves in 10-14 days’ time, it is very difficult to measure the effects and the consequences of our actions today.”

“In two weeks’ time we could have a surge, but not necessarily so if we are sensible and take care. This is our aim.” 

BREACHING THE LAW

Since March 23 to yesterday morning, the RGP and their colleagues carried out 965 interventions in accordance with the Civil Contingencies legislation on Covid-19.

A total of 48 people were arrested for breaching Covid-19 regulations, while 12 were reported for process.

In addition, 83 people were taken home in line with the powers conferred by the regulations, 438 were requested home and 384 individuals received warning or were offered advice.

Of the 965 interventions carried out by the authorities, 216 involved those over 70.

“When providing you with these figures, I want you to know our officers do not turn up for duty to spoil your day or infringe on your rights. We are here to help our beloved Gibraltar come out of this in the best possible way,” Mr McGrail said.

“In addition to the interventions I have referred to, we are constantly dealing with other crimes and calls for our services - and I must say officers are responding to these admirably.”

COVID-19 LEGISTLATION

Since January 31, 47 pieces of secondary legislation has been drafted by the Government Law Offices and the Ministry of Justice “to prevent, mitigate and control the spread of Covid-19 in Gibraltar”.

This is in order to give effect to Government policy based on scientific advice and public health advice, Ms Sacramento said, and thanked the individuals concerned.

“Thanks to their work, we have in place a legislative framework which initially slowed the appearance of the virus in Gibraltar by imposing restrictions on travel from certain countries and requiring self-isolation from those who did return from those places,” Ms Sacramento said.

“As we move into a new phase, I am certain that we will be able to continue to rely on them to provide the appropriate legislative measures and advice that reflect Government policy and the scientific advice to navigate our way out of this emergency”, she added.