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Covid-19 ‘in decline’ in Gibraltar, but lockdown exit remains complex and risky

The scene on Main Street yesterday morning. Gibraltar remains in lockdown and there is little prospect of exit anytime soon. Photo by Stephen Ignacio

Statistics show that Covid-19 “is in decline” in Gibraltar, Public Health Director Dr Sohail Bahatti said on Friday, as he set out the factors that need to be in place before the civil contingency regulations can be eased, but warned nonetheless there was no room for complacency.

These key factors include the number of confirmed cases, hospital bed occupancy including the ICU and the demand on ventilators. 

But Dr Bhatti said too that Gibraltar’s geographical location was also significant and that the challenges facing the rest of the Iberian peninsula, in particular Andalucia, will play a huge role in determining how and when Gibraltar’s restrictions can be eased. 

And with Covid-19 being a new virus about which little is known, there is no clear roadmap on how to return to any semblance of normality.

“Clearly the figures indicate that the virus in the current situation is in decline but the question really is what is our future, and that is a really difficult task,” Dr Bahatti said during the daily press briefing. 

“There isn’t a lot of evidence about what might work, so we’re watching very closely what’s happening in other countries and what the outcome of that is.” 

“Bear in mind that any measure that you take only manifests about a week to 10 days later, which is when the incubation period ends, and then actually 10 days after that you, might see a surge in people being admitted to hospital.” 

The factors that decide the appropriate time to lift restrictions include the number of cases, how many beds are occupied with the illness and how many ventilators are being used, Dr Bhatti said. 

“At the moment we don’t have much in the way of use [of hospital capacity], but does that mean that we should release lockdown?” he said.

“There’s an awful lot of pressure to consider those options, but we will be looking at things like immunity in the population.”

For now at least, there seems little prospect of any relaxation in the lockdown restrictions, which have now been in place for nearly a month, longer in the case of elderly members of the community.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said it was unlikely that lockdown measures would be eased on Monday when the issue is reviewed by the Cabinet.

“We will only ease aspects of the lockdown when we are advised it is safe to do so,” Mr Picardo said. 

“But we will not maintain any aspect of the lockdown longer than we are advised that we have to.”

“It is important that you have my firm assurance in that respect.”

This comes as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remained unchanged at 132 for a second day. 

Of the 132 confirmed cases, some 111 have now fully recovered while the 21 cases still active are all recovering at home. 

“The fact is that we’ve not yet lost a life to Covid although it seems inevitable that at some stage we might,” Mr Picardo said, adding: “When we do, we won't be talking about a statistic, we’ll be talking about a member of our community.”

“And that is why it is so important that each and every one of us, each and every one of the residents of our community, every single Gibraltarian, should realise that we have to continue to follow the rules of lockdown.” 

Mr Picardo also confirmed that a committee had been established by the Cabinet to look at the various statistical analysis relevant to the pandemic. 

The group, which will be known as the Statistical Analysis for Gibraltar Group and led by Sir Joe Bossano, will report back to the government on all the statistical models currently in play. 

The group includes Ernest Montado, who was Chief Secretary for many years and started his time in the Gibraltar Government dealing with statistics, and has a deep understanding of Gibraltar at all levels.

Also on the group is Vijay Kumar, who was the Director of Public Health until last year. He too knows the community well, having been in the post for the better part of a decade, Mr Picardo said. 

The group’s membership also includes the Chief Statistician, Claire Kelly-Federico, who has all the current Gibraltar statistics available for the group to access.

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