CM appeals for ‘personal responsibility’ with stark message and new guidance as virus cases spike again
By Gabriella Peralta and Priya Gulraj
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo announced stricter public health guidance and caps on public gatherings alongside new measures for the catering sector on Tuesday, placing health services on high alert as the number of cases detected in Gibraltar spiked by 31.
The Gibraltar Government stopped short of imposing a further lockdown or making mask use compulsory everywhere, but issued strong advice that the over 70s should stay indoors where possible and that face coverings be used in busy outdoor areas such as Main Street.
And as eight cases were detected in the Elderly Residential Services - including three patients - the Chief - Minister announced that family visits would no longer be allowed and that elderly care care homes and wards were locking down again.
Speaking during a press conference at No.6 Convent Place, Mr Picardo appealed to Gibraltarians to show personal responsibility and adhere to guidelines and act accordingly.
Tuesday saw the sharpest rise in cases since the pandemic began, with 31 new positive cases detected in a single day.
Despite Gibraltar’s testing capability vastly increasing over recent months, the spike was a cause for concern with a total of 128 active cases reported, of which 126 are Gibraltar residents.
Of these active cases, six are currently in the Covid-19 Ward, although none are in intensive care.
A “remarkable” 1,066 tests were carried out on Tuesday, and Mr Picardo highlighted the accuracy of the number of infections in Gibraltar due to this high level of testing.
But in the face of rising cases and a few hospitalisations, the new measures and advice aim to curb the spread of the virus which has gripped the globe this year.
The decisions, he said, had not been taken lightly.
If the number of infections does not drop, Mr Picardo said further measures short of a lockdown may be required.
“We therefore anticipate further action if the measures we are taking today are not having the required effect,” Mr Picardo said.
The new measures, although less encompassing than those imposed last March, will see daily life shift once again for some Gibraltar residents.
Mr Picardo delivered the stark message that he had “very bad news”, revealing three residents in the John Mackintosh Wing had tested positive for Covid-19 and a further five members of staff are also positive.
As a result, Elderly Residential Services has been placed under lockdown, with all visits prohibited, Mr Picardo announced “with a heavy heart”.
“I know how painful it will be to be prevented from seeing loved ones in ERS,” Mr Picardo said.
“I can only apologise to you for having no choice but to impose this restriction.”
Mr Picardo said he had instructed the Minister for Health to gear up the reopening of the Nightingale Ward at Europa at 72 hours notice.
He has also issued further instructions to the GHA, due to the small number of ICU beds currently available, which stands at eight.
Mr Picardo recognised that the ICU could be overwhelmed as cases continue to rise, with plans in place to turn the day surgery ward into an additional ICU facility if needed.
He also “strongly advised” the over 70s and those who are immunosuppressed not to leave their homes unless necessary, as they are most at risk of this virus.
The public have been advised not to the attend funerals other than those of direct relatives and against attending communal worship where social distancing cannot be observed.
Mr Picardo appealed to the public to heed his message, avoid unnecessary contact and change the way we greet each other to save lives.
“Please stick strictly to the public health advice,” Mr Picardo said.
“Please observe social distancing. I know you are sick of hearing this message. But you may get very sick if you don’t heed this message.”
“Please refrain from interpersonal contact. I refuse to bring a law that says you cannot kiss, hug or shake hands.”
“But please from now on, do not kiss, hug or shake hands with persons outside of your home family unit.”
He also noted that the principal vector for the spread of Covid-19 in Gibraltar was in people’s homes and work, and emphasised caution at the workplace.
“I know we consider it natural to act in that way, but let us understand that we must change our social behaviour, for now at least,” he said.
“And do not let your guard down when you are at work. That is where the spread is occurring.”
Mr Picardo added the actions of every person will have an impact over the next few months and could help avoid further restrictions in the future.
He recognised the bleakness of his message, warning too that it is unlikely Christmas parties will be permitted this year in restaurants, bars or elsewhere.
The wearing of masks in public spaces was also strongly advised by Mr Picardo, as scientific evidence suggests that masks reduce the viral load a person gives off, as well as the viral load the wearer becomes infected with.
“We strongly advise that whatever your age, when you are in Main Street, Irish Town or other areas where people accumulate and cannot keep social distance, that persons of all ages above the age of 10 should wear masks,” Mr Picardo said.
Mr Picardo said the use of masks has not been made compulsory as in other countries because the Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, has not given this advice.
Mr Picardo announced the tightening of restrictions on bars and restaurants, which are set to come into effect as from midnight on Friday.
Gatherings have also been reduced from 20 to 16 and the maximum number of persons who can sit at one table in a restaurant will be reduced from 10 to eight.
“There will be no live, public, musical performances at bars, restaurants or cafeterias,” Mr Picardo said.
The total number of tables permitted will be reduced to a ratio of 1.5 metres per person in their useable common area.
Last orders for alcoholic drinks will be brought forward to 11pm, and only one alcoholic drink per person at a table will be permitted at last orders, although restaurants will be able to continue to close at 1am, Mr Picardo unveiled.
The same rule will apply to bars with their own kitchen, but any bars, pubs or clubs that do not have their own kitchen will be required to stop service by 9pm and such establishments must close by 10pm.
“The operation of Casinos will now be subject to the same rules as bars and restaurants and they will have to close also by 1am,” Mr Picardo said.
Mr Picardo also announced specific, tighter measures for the leisure area at Chatham Counterguard, adding that some patrons have not observed rules of social distancing and consumption of alcohol.
“At Chatham Counterguard, all restaurants will have to close one hour earlier than elsewhere, at midnight,” Mr Picardo said.
“Wearing of masks will also be mandatory in the leisure area of Chatham Counterguard except when sat down at a restaurant table.”
At Chatham Counterguard, capacity will be determined to a ratio of three metres per person in their useable external common area and only persons sat at tables will be permitted to be served.
A spokesman for the Gibraltar Catering Association told the Chronicle its members are discussing the new measures announced by the Chief Minister.
“We would like to offer the Government our support and we are open for further discussions on any matter,” the GCA added.
Bob Kumar, of Little Bay in Ocean Village, said the restrictions announced “were not as bad as expected”, although he is concerned about trade over the Christmas period.
“We have established ourselves as a place to celebrate, be it birthdays, be it Diwali, be it Christmas,” Mr Kumar said.
“Not having organised Christmas parties for larger companies with music, all that is gone.”
“That is going to affect our Christmas takings badly.”
“We can still do smaller parties but it will be much more sedated this year, with no music and no dancing.”
“This is not unique to me, everyone has the same problem.”
Mr Picardo said the Minister for Business, Vijay Daryanani, had met with the Gibraltar Catering Association but he had not yet been briefed on the outcome of this meeting.
He added the Government has to calibrate whether the catering sector has been more affected than retail, but he was not ruling anything out in terms of further financial support.
Universities in the UK have become hotspots for the spread of Covid-19, with many turning to online classes.
The concern is when these students return home for Christmas and to prevent spread tests for students has become mandatory.
Mr Picardo recognised that universities have become “clear vectors of infection” and said the new measure will apply to all students on a scholarship from the Department of Education who is returning to Gibraltar.
“Students should therefore be in touch with 200 41818 to be tested on arrival in Gibraltar and they will have to quarantine for five days,” Mr Picardo said.
“This will also mean that their contact with elderly loved ones will also be safer.”
“I hope everyone will understand that these measures are designed to try to avoid a new lockdown.”
“To avoid a circuit breaker or sharp shock being required.”