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Opinion & Analysis

Avoiding easy conclusions

Data released today on Covid strains detected on the Rock underscores the need to resist jumping to easy conclusions about this insidious virus.

Last week Jesus Aguirre, the Junta’s top man on health issues, called on the Spanish Government to consider tighter controls on people crossing the border from Gibraltar into Spain.

Mr Aguirre, egged on by cheerleaders in some Spanish media, was concerned that Gibraltar was lifting its restrictions too soon.

Underpinning that concern was the widespread belief that the highly infectious UK Kent strain had entered Andalucia via Gibraltar earlier this year, driving the number of infections up in southern Spain.

In fact, as the data published today shows, the Kent strain was, literally, only half the story.

The research shows that the spike in cases in Gibraltar over the Christmas and New Year period was driven by the Spanish strain as much as by the UK variant.

Mr Aguirre would have done better to take his lead from Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya, who last January, quizzed on Canal Sur about the Kent strain and Gibraltar, offered this guidance: “There has been a lot of focus on this [strain] in particular, but this is just one of hundreds of strains that have appeared in Spain over recent months, and Spain is one of the countries that has registered the most variety of strains.”

Mrs Gonzalez Laya spoke of daily contact with health authorities in Gibraltar and the need for a joint response to this crisis. She stressed too the importance of personal responsibility.

That last message, repeated endlessly on this side of the border too, is crucial. We are each responsible for our actions, and the decisions we take have wider implications for others.

Mr Aguirre and his fan club were misguided in singling out Gibraltar.

The reality is that in areas such as catering, Gibraltar has had stricter measures in place than Spain for much of this year, and has registered few cases since the vaccination programme entered its final stages in recent days.

There are still tight restrictions too on anyone arriving in Gibraltar from the UK, and on who can cross into Spain.

And yet, as we remove masks in open public spaces and enjoy a hint of normality once again, it is worth remembering that this pandemic is far from over.

Infections are rising sharply again in many parts of Europe and as the data shows, our links to both the UK and Spain leave us exposed on two flanks.

But that does not mean we should seal ourselves off, because the response to this public health crisis lies in careful balance of risk.

We should embrace and enjoy our regained freedoms, but with extreme caution.

Vaccination is not a silver bullet and we must all work collectively to avoid slipping back.

For now at least, the watchwords ‘social distance’ and ‘wash your hands’ are here to stay.

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