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Dr Sohail Bhatti outlines ‘seek and destroy’ strategy as Gibraltar’s Covid-19 response evolves

Gibraltar’s response to Covid-19 is shifting to a more nuanced strategy that will “seek and destroy” the virus through aggressive testing alongside moves to contain new cases and trace any contacts they may have had in the community.

As plans are prepared to identify ways to loosen the lockdown restrictions where possible, Dr Sohail Bhatti, the Director of Public Health, said developments in Spain and the UK would be a decisive factor in Gibraltar’s response over the coming weeks and months.

Repeating his analogy of Gibraltar as a dry bush caught between raging fires, Dr Bhatti said that even if the virus was stamped out here - and it was a big if, he said - the evolution of the pandemic in both the UK and Spain would be of direct relevance here.

He said a multi-layered “test, track and trace” strategy was now appropriate to limit the spread of infection as countries around the world prepared to relax restrictions where possible.

Dr Bhatti said that while it was vital to ensure fluid movement through Gibraltar’s entry point, it was essential too to hone in on “sporadic incursions [of the virus] by air, by sea or by land”.

Without that strategy, the danger was that “…when we do loosen the lockdown, that may be the spark that lands on this tree that is Gibraltar and starts a fire.”

The new approach includes random temperature screening at Gibraltar’s entry points, although the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, said earlier this week that the logistical details of that had yet to be finalised.

But Dr Bhatti revealed that the GHA had started temperature screening at St Bernard’s Hospital today as part of its measures to control the virus.

Likewise another round of random swabbing will focus initially on frontline workers including healthcare personnel and law enforcement officers, but will be rolled out to other essential workers in constant contact with the public.

Dr Bhatti was speaking at the 4pm press conference after Paul Balban, the Minister for Health, said the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Gibraltar had risen by three overnight to 136 cases, of which five remained active and none were in hospital.

Mr Balban offered an update on the GHA’s preparations and said healthcare workers would hold a minute’s silence outside St Bernard’s Hospital on Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday in honour of frontline medical staff in the UK who have died after contracting the virus while caring for patients.

"These people have been at the frontline and their vocational love for humanity and wanting to help care for others have seen them make the ultimate sacrifice," he said.

But he ended on an upbeat note by revealing that 36 babies had been born in Gibraltar since the start of the lockdown nearly five weeks ago.

Yesterday morning, at our daily operational meeting, I was very pleased to learn that the Maternity Ward had had a very busy previous 24 hours, with no less than seven babies being delivered by our midwives to very proud parents,” he said.

“I wish them on behalf of the Government of Gibraltar and surely the whole community our most heartfelt congratulations and hope that Covid-19 will no longer be a reality when they come of age to reason and be merely another story to tell.”