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CM lays out roadmap for seven-phase exit from lockdown

Archive image of Chief Minister Fabian Picardo. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has set out the road-map for a gradual lifting of Gibraltar’s lockdown restrictions, with the second phase set to commence next week. 

The route is laid out in a document entitled ‘Unlock the Rock’ that sets out a seven-phase strategy for cautiously lifting the current restrictions.

The document will be published on Tuesday in line with the release of the UK’s lockdown exit strategy, but the Chief Minister sketched out its main elements during the 4pm conference at No.6 Convent Place on Monday.

This comes after the easing of restrictions in the first phase - which allowed shops to reopen with certain restrictions in place - did not lead to an exponential growth in Covid-19 infections. 

Gibraltar has so far registered a total of 147 cases of Covid-19, of which 143 are recovered and four remain active, none of them in hospital.

“So in this first phase, 12 days in since we started to relax matters, we are not seeing yet any exponential growth in infections,” Mr Picardo said.

The strategy, to which the Opposition has provided “significant feedback”, depends on the infection curve remaining flat, and measures could be tightened again at any time if the number of cases rises again.

Crucially, if the rate of infection remains low, laws restricting free movement will be lifted even though the core advice will be to remain at home wherever possible.

“With a small number of cases and an increased ability to test and track exposure to the virus, we will be moving from a situation where we restrict movement by compulsion to a situation where we are more targeted in the restrictions we impose,” Mr Picardo said.

“Because we want to lift as many restrictions on movement as possible as soon as we are able to do so safely.”

The forthcoming steps are subject to two key caveats, in much the same way as the entire document is peppered with warnings about heeding public health advice. 

“We will continue to advise that staying at home is the best way to stay safe, but we will change our posture,” Mr Picardo said.

The Chief Minister said that when phase two commences as from May 18, museums, libraries and exhibitions will return. 

Commercial gyms are also expected to re-open in phase two, albeit subject to “tight controls”.

Parliamentary activity will also return in phase two, with a meeting of Parliament scheduled for May 28.

Construction works within dwellings will also be permitted, though subject to permits and strict rules of social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Education will also start a phased return as previously set out by the Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi and as agreed with the teachers’ union.

If all goes well and there is no jump in the number of infections, phase three will commence on June 1 with the return of religious worship subject to “very strict distancing controls.” 

This phase will also provide for the return of public transport and the closure of Chatham Counterguard and the partial closure of Line Wall Road.

Some theatrical, musical and dance performances will be permitted without a live audience for filming and broadcast purposes.

Restaurants will be able to re-open with restrictions of up to 50% in terms of occupancy.

Public Health permits will be required for the opening of restaurants.

Finally, in phase four, the Government will look to re-open bars and cafeterias as from June 16, subject to Public Health permits.

And there was reason for beachgoers to be optimistic too.

“We also expect to open the bathing season in mid-June,” Mr Picardo said. 

“And I want to be clear: our ambition will be to see a normal bathing season, with normal beach going.”

“We do not want to see any restrictions on our ability to attend beaches, but this will require common sense from the public.” 

“You will have to pitch your tents further away from each other than we are used to. So we will not be able to crowd around the shore and the best spots as we each like to do.” 

“We have to reserve of course the right to impose restrictions if the infection rate of Covid-19 increases, but we are hoping of course, it will not.” 

“What we will be working to do is offer the over-70s who wish – that is to say, not by compulsion – those who wish, areas which will be reserved for them exclusively.”

“We are considering making Europa Pool and the Bathing Pavilion at GASA exclusively available to our elderly citizens so they can bathe without mixing with younger members of the community.” 

The final two phases, phases five and six, will act as review phases for restaurants, bars, cafeterias and gyms.

Those that will still have restrictions in place will see a further loosening of those restrictions over those phases.

“And thereafter, assuming everything has gone well, which is a big assumption, then we will move to ‘Rock unlocked– phase’ new normal as we head into the autumn,” Mr Picardo said. explaining that this will commence as from August 1.

“That is also a moment when we will have to be most alert to how things may progress.”

It will be at that final stage that attendance at funerals and weddings may then be more normalised, although there may still be a maximum number of people prescribed for attendance.

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