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Opinion & Analysis

‘Do it all’

Are we paying enough attention to Covid-19? My experience at a few events in the past fortnight suggests we may be dropping our guard even as our community registers a steady flow of new cases daily.

Picture the scene. A reception just over a week ago attended by some 300 people of all age groups. Not a mask in sight.

I stood by the door near an open window, heard the speeches and left shortly after, skipping the drinks and chatter. I wasn’t alone. Walking out with me was a nurse. “A few too many people in there,” she muttered, raising her eyebrows.

Another reception around the same time. Again, scores of people indoors, mixing and mingling over drinks and canapes. Not a mask in sight.

By way of contrast, I was at an evening event in San Roque a couple of days later. There were 20 people or so in the room. All the windows were open. People sat with empty chairs in between. Everyone wore masks.

It’s hard to gauge whether we’ve relaxed too much because there are multiple factors at play, not least a high take-up of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But there is an inescapable fact: Covid-19 is still with us.

And jabbed or not, we can still catch the virus and pass it on.

On Wednesday, Gibraltar reported another 36 cases of the virus, including 22 involving vaccinated people.

There were 216 active cases on the Rock, all but two of them residents. Another 264 people were in self isolation.

In the Campo, where measures including compulsory mask use indoors remain in place, the number of active cases the same day in a population of around 260,000 was 71, according to Spain’s Ministry for Health.

Can we compare the two? Probably not, given the variables. But it’s food for thought.

The good news in Gibraltar is that despite the daily cases, most people are recovering at home and hospitalisation remains low. The vaccine, one might surmise, appears to be doing its job in at least ensuring that the worst effects of this insidious virus are kept at bay and avoiding the pressure on the GHA we experienced last winter.

Gibraltar also seems to test more widely and frequently than Spain, where outside essential services only people with symptoms are routinely tested. You can buy lateral flow tests in Spanish pharmacies for seven euros, and anecdotal evidence suggests many people do, but Gibraltar’s testing regime is far wider, including everyone arriving by air.

That means we pick up cases quickly.

A quick calculation using official data for seven days this month suggests Gibraltar tested the equivalent of 167 people per 1000, compared to seven per 1000 in the province of Cadiz during the same period.

Gibraltar’s test and trace scheme is well-oiled and far-reaching. It’s an early-warning rapid response system that seeks to stamp out sparks before they flare into fires.

So the lines of defence for this community are there and appear to be working, allowing businesses to rebuild after the blow of the past 18 months of lockdowns and upheaval. Balancing public health with the economic impact of the pandemic has been a key aim from the outset.

And yet, forgive me if I sound like a party pooper, I cannot escape the sense that we are moving too fast in our return to normality.

As we enter winter, are we taking all the precautions we should perhaps be taking?

If you’re still washing your hands as obsessively as you were this time last year, good on you. I suspect though you’re in a minority.

Same with personal distance and all the other basic steps that were drilled into us last year as the first line of defence against Covid-19.

And not forgetting masks.

Against the backdrop of rising cases earlier this month, the Gibraltar Government appealed for caution from the community.

“Gibraltar has experienced a steady rise in active COVID-19 cases throughout October,” a government spokesman said at the time.

“It should serve as a reminder to us all that the pandemic is not over yet.”

“As we enter the winter months, it is important to remain vigilant and keep up the tried and tested methods of keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe.”

“Good hand and respiratory hygiene are extremely important. This means washing your hands well and often, wearing a mask where it is required and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow.”

“It is also important to think carefully about who we socialise with and how.”

“This means maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene, wearing a mask if required, thinking carefully about who we socialise with and how, and reporting even the mildest of symptoms to 111.”

Masks remain compulsory in shops, public transport and most indoor settings unless people are seated and consuming food or drinks.

If you’re still in doubt as to whether or not masks work – and after everything we’ve been through, that seems incredible to me, but still – then consider this from the World Health Organisation, which urges communities to make wearing face coverings a normal part of being around other people.

“Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives,” the WHO says, even while adding that “…the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against Covid-19.”

“If Covid-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.”

And perhaps the most important advice of all: “Do it all!”

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