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As lockdown restrictions are lifted, Chief Minister appeals for ‘common sense and discipline’

Eyleen Gomez

As the regulations underpinning the Covid-19 restrictions fell away at midnight last night, the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo called for the community’s support in keeping the virus under control, insisting he needed it now more than ever.

“The sacrifices of the past ten weeks will mean nothing if you ignore our advice now,” he said, as he implored the community to continue to adhere to the concepts of social distancing.

“If we become complacent and return to old habits, there is a real risk that the virus can spread again,” Mr Picardo said, as he addressed the public during a broadcast on GBC.

This comes as the regulations restricting freedom of movement for all ages lapsed at midnight on Thursday in line with the Rock’s gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.

Mr Picardo said Gibraltar should celebrate this, not with a party but with pledges to continue to adhere to the rules of social distancing, and prudence in the exercise of these freedoms.

Despite the removal of restrictions on freedom of movement, the restriction on freedom of association will remain, limiting gatherings to a maximum of 12 people.

People are therefore allowed to meet with friends and family in groups so long as their number does not exceed 12, with fines of up to £10,000 for serious breaches.

In answer to questions from this newspaper, the Government said it “strongly advises” that the 12 persons should be the same ones throughout the coming weeks and months while the measure is in place, as this will help to facilitate any contact tracing that may be required.

But that restriction to the same group of people will not be set in law.

“We are counting on people to continue to exercise common sense and discipline going forward,” a government spokesman told the Chronicle.

Mr Picardo underlined that sentiment throughout his broadcast last night.

“This is for your own safety,” he said, adding that cases of Covid-19 continue to be identified through the GHA’s random testing.

“The three new active cases yesterday remind us that complacency is the enemy of unlocking.”

“Today, as we start the gradual process of lifting the lockdown, we must remain vigilant. Because we are not free of the virus.”

Mr Picardo said there will be new clusters and Gibraltar must avoid a new wave of infection.

“When the lockdown came, you responded bravely and courageously,” the Chief Minister said.

“Despite the restrictions on your freedoms, despite the economic damage and despite the emotional toll, from every sector we saw support for our necessary measures.”

“Now, I still need your support. In fact, I need your support now more than ever.”

“Your support now is critical.”

Mr Picardo called on the community to familiarise itself with the rules of social distancing.

Highlighting World Health Organisation advice that this virus may never go away, he called for balance moving forward.

“We need to live with this in the way the world today lives with other potentially deadly conditions that do not paralyse society,” he said.

“To do that, you are the front line of the battle against the virus. You are the front line of the war against Covid. You must be ready to follow the rules.”

Mr Picardo said the Government’s ability to tackle the virus is now as good as it can be but moving forward it will be the community that is key to the strategy.

“You must self-isolate immediately if you get the symptoms,” he said.

“You will get tested very quickly when you call 111.”

“With our ability to test 2% of our community every day, we can keep your self-isolation to a minimum.”

“If you test negative, you can return to work and your daily life immediately.”

“If you test positive, be assured that we have all the resources we need to care for you.”

“If your symptoms are serious, we have all the latest therapies and medications to try to help you get through the infection.”

The GHA will not be overwhelmed, he said.

Setting out the Government’s plans for “aggressive” contact tracing, he said an app will be deployed and could be available by mid-June.

Additionally, those who opt to do so will be tested for antibodies and this will paint a better picture of just how many people have had Covid-19 in the community but not realised it. For most people, the symptoms of the virus are relatively mild.

“With all that, we will be blind no more,” Mr Picardo said.

The Government’s strategy will include a mix of science and technology.

“What we need is your courage, your community spirit and your common sense,” Mr Picardo said, acknowledging that there will be limits to how far measures can be enforced.

“Because we are not going to pretend to police how far apart you stand.”

“But if you stand too close, it could be you that gets the virus from someone who shows no symptoms.”

“It might be dangerous for you, or for one of your loved ones who might get the virus from you,” he said, again urging the use of common sense.

“We also need your community spirit because we must now be committed to a greater good.”

“A commitment to the community above self.”

This, he said, will ensure that the Government can continue to concentrate resources where they are likely to be needed most - on the front line of the health service.

BOX

Regulations set out 12-person rule, and exemptions

With restrictions on freedom of association limiting gatherings to 12 people in place, the Government on Thursday set out the scope of the new rules in regulations published in the Gazette.

The regulations set a 12-person limit on gathering and outline exemptions to that cap relating mainly to workplace situations.

These include where the gathering is essential for work purposes or to carry out the work of the Civil Contingencies Committee or under the instructions of the Civil Contingencies Coordinator or the Director of Public Health.

They also cover the participation in legal proceedings or fulfil a legal obligation or statutory duty.

Medical or care facilities, including a veterinary clinic, where it is necessary for the normal business of the facilities; the airport; the Gibraltar Parliament; as well as retail shops, supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries, confectioneries, butchers, fishmongers, health shops and pharmacies are also exempt.

Gyms that hold a permit issued by the Director of Public Health are also exempt, as are clubs provided that they have the prior approval of the Office of the Civil Contingencies Co-ordinator and subject to such conditions as may be specified.

The regulations state that where a police officer considers that more than 12 people are gathered in contravention of this regulation, the officer may direct the gathering to disperse.

A person who contravenes this regulation or fails to comply with a direction of a police officer commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine up to level 5, or £10,000, on the standard scale.