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Opinion & Analysis

Concerns about ‘unlocking the Rock’

Eyleen Gomez

By Marlene Hassan Nahon, Leader of Together Gibraltar

Together Gibraltar understands the need to move towards a de-escalation of the lockdown, and
supports the Government’s plan to restart the economy within parameters defined by public health objectives. However, we believe the health and safety of the people of Gibraltar should remain the priority, and that activity should not be resumed without adequate preparation for a new wave of Covid-19 cases. With an adequately implemented strategy, the aim of neutralising the virus completely is within our reach, and we should pursue this goal vigorously.

Together Gibraltar is concerned that the level of preparation is currently inadequate, and urges
Government to implement the following measures as a matter of urgency.

MASS TESTING

Pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers present the greatest risk of spreading the disease,
therefore the current testing system (where people call 111 when symptomatic) is not fit for purpose in a post-lockdown Gibraltar. While we commend Government and public health authorities for the levels of testing throughout the lockdown, (in fact, ranking amongst the highest per capita in the world), we believe they might prove insufficient to avoid a new wave of cases once the lockdown is lifted. We also note that for epidemiological purposes, Gibraltar must add the floating, cross-border population to its statistics post lockdown, bringing our population to a figure between 40k and 50k.

In many cities around the world, mass testing is now available so that any citizen who wants a test can have one, and a small city of 30k+ should be capable of putting together the necessary
infrastructure to make this happen. As for the data of testing currently being disseminated, we
believe it to be of very limited epidemiological relevance. For example, the statistic of total people
tested, though visually pleasing, is not particularly helpful when you consider many of these tests
occurred over a month ago. The more useful statistic, the number of daily tests being performed,
shows an average of 53 swabs a day since Government began sharing testing data. More concerning is the daily average for the last week, more than 3 months into the pandemic, which stands at roughly 89 tests a day. In a small, self-contained and densely populated place like Gibraltar, higher testing rates could, and should be achieved.

MASKS IN PUBLIC

Wearing a surgical mask prevents the spread of the Coronavirus, but only if all citizens wear it.
Barring obvious exceptions (small children, people exercising, limitations presented by certain
professional activities, etc), masks should be compulsory for all adults, particularly in all indoor
activities. We continue to see daily photos of unmasked healthcare professionals, images which are almost impossible to see elsewhere in the western world. Measures should be taken by Government and businesses to ensure the widespread availability of surgical masks in enclosed venues.

STRINGENT SOCIAL DISTANCING

The last few days have seen many of our citizens flaunt social distancing rules in extremely visible
ways, mostly without consequences, and this will continue unless we instil the perception that there will be real consequences to irresponsible behaviour. We hereby urge the public to carry out their civic duty in ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to. In order to ensure compliance, stronger enforcement of these norms ought to carry warnings and fines for repeat offenders. Though we understand the pressure this will put on our police and law enforcement agencies, we do not believe it is a dystopian measure. In fact, these norms are being policed in many countries around the world, with positive results. It is important that the community understands the need for social distancing, sacrificing a small part of their personal freedom to prevent an increase in contagion and to protect the vulnerable and our healthcare workers.

MIXED MESSAGES

We are also concerned by mixed messages being issued from public authorities which might
undermine the commitment of our citizens to the recommended social distancing protocols. We
believe campaigns such as “I am not scared of Covid-19” (recently promoted by the GHA’s Public
Health Department) send out the wrong message to the community and should be retracted. We are not advocating for living in fear, but there is a reason we have locked down our economy at an
enormous price. We are combating a deadly disease which we should all be wary of, and we believe healthy levels of concern promote more responsible behaviours.

We applaud the change in rhetoric from the Government and our public health authorities, from the pursuit of “herd immunity” to a strategy of seek and destroy. This is particularly important in the light of recent WHO statements warning Governments that immunity from Covid-19 after suffering the disease is far from guaranteed.

With mass testing, contact tracing and intelligently deployed and enforced social distancing, we
believe the virus can be rooted out and eventually eliminated, and many lives saved as a
consequence. Other countries such as S. Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia have achieved this goal, and should serve as a guiding light for nations battling coronavirus around the world.

We also would like to issue a note of appreciation for the Government’s recognition of Together Gibraltar’s policy initiative to pedestrianise Line Wall Road. We will be happy to engage with Government and technical experts in the design and implementation of this policy.

Marlene Hassan Nahon is a Member of the Gibraltar Parliament and Leader of Together Gibraltar