ERS increases access for visitors, but GSD again questions ‘obstinate policy’ on jabs
Elderly Residential Services said on Wednesday it would now allow daily visits, up from four times a week, as Gibraltar eases back to normality underpinned by community-wide vaccination.
ERS said it had established a safe visiting procedure for its facilities in tandem with the Director of Public Health as well as the GHA’s Medical Director, its consultant microbiologist and the Public Health Covid Laboratory and the University of Gibraltar.
Visits will be allowed daily between 1pm and 3pm as long as there are no confirmed positive cases in ERS sites.
In line with Public Health recommendations, in the event that a positive Covid-19 case is detected, visiting in that particular site will be suspended until the situation is resolved.
Visits will be limited to one designated visitor per resident per day, and all visitors will require a negative antigen lateral flow test at the respective ERS site prior to their visit.
All visitors must also provide proof of receipt of one dose of a Covid-19 vaccination in order to be allowed in to any ERS site during visiting times.
“It brings me great joy to finally allow daily visits into ERS after such a challenging year and this return to a slightly more normal procedure,” said Health Minister Samantha Sacramento.
“We have done so following the advice of our health professionals, which I have to personally thank for making this possible.”
“However, we must remember that we still need to be cautious when visiting our loved ones at ERS as they are particularly vulnerable and follow Public Health advice to keep them safe.”
The announcement of increased visits at ERS came as the GSD again voiced concern over the requirement that all visitors be vaccinated, an issue that has proved controversial in recent days.
The GSD said people who have not been jabbed were being unfairly denied access to relatives and has repeatedly urged the government to put in place measures to allow them to safely visit relatives.
The government has insisted that the policy was based on public health advice that aims to protect the most vulnerable.
But on Wednesday, the GSD again repeated its position in what has become an increasingly acrimonious daily exchange of views with the Gibraltar Government.
It said the government’s policy was politically driven and was not justifiable given that there were no resident cases of Covid-19 in Gibraltar, adding it was causing anxiety to many people.
“The Government is repeatedly now noting that there are no resident Covid cases in Gibraltar [and] that is great news,” said the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi.
“As a society we need to act accordingly and allow freedoms to be restored carefully.”
“What happened to Mr Picardo’s repeated statements that restrictions would not be in place a moment longer than was necessary?”
“If visits are not allowed now for all families when there are zero resident cases and 90% of the population is vaccinated, when will they be allowed?”
“Unvaccinated family members are willing to take precautions and undergo Covid tests.”
“How is it reasonable to impose further restrictions now given where we are with cases and the vaccination programme as a whole?”
“Ways should be found to allow visits for all families safely.”
Mr Azopardi cited the UK Government’s guidance on visits to care homes, which states that vaccinations, while “strongly recommended,” are not compulsory for visitors.
The advice, which is applicable to England, comes against the backdrop of higher numbers of cases in the UK and a lower vaccination rate.
Earlier this week the government had accused the GSD of being “unscrupulous” and risking undermining the vaccination drive by insisting on access for people who had not been jabbed.
The Opposition questioned that accusation given that the UK Government was not requiring vaccination either for care home visits.
Additionally, it pointed to the Gibraltar Government’s hope that the Rock will be included in the UK’s green travel list, thus enabling British tourism at a time when the economy is in dire need of renewed activity in this sector.
The GSD there were no requirements for visitors to be vaccinated and that even some staff members at ERS and in the GHA had not been jabbed.
And while the EU was considering ‘vaccine passports’, this did not mean those who had not been jabbed would be barred from travelling, but rather that those who had would find it easier to move around.
The government has also clarified that visits by unvaccinated people were allowed in situations where relatives were in “end of life” situations.
But the Opposition questioned why unvaccinated visitors could not see relatives except in that extreme context.
“As we have consistently said we support the vaccination programme and encourage people to be vaccinated,” Mr Azopardi said.
“But if they choose not to they cannot be relegated to a situation where the state places unreasonable obstacles in front of their enjoyment of family life even when there are no cases of Covid in Gibraltar.”
“What may have been justifiable when there was high numbers of cases or risks is not justifiable any longer.”
“Those people and families suffering these restrictions will remember and not forgive the Government’s obstinate policy.”