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Fewer cases, more vaccines but one death as CM warns ‘Covid is here to stay’

Gibraltar “is not out of the woods”, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo warned on Friday, as he announced another Covid-19 death, an imminent shipment of over 14,000 vaccines and fewer active cases.

Mr Picardo described the number of deaths this year as “harrowing”, with the toll rising to 80 since the pandemic began.

After welcoming the appointment of Archbishop-elect Mark Miles as Papal ambassador to the Republic of Benin, the session saw Parliament hold a minute’s silence to remember all lives, both in Gibraltar and globally, lost to Covid-19.

In Gibraltar, the rock mourned another death on Friday.

A woman in her 90s, a resident of Elderly Residential Services, died of a cerebrovascular event caused by the Covid-19 virus.

Her death is a stark reminder that although active cases continue to decrease daily, complacency breeds serious consequences during a pandemic.

“We are not yet out of the woods,” Mr Picardo said.

“But with the support of all our community for the measures we have imposed... we are slowly turning a corner.”

Cases in Gibraltar have gradually decreased in recent weeks and as of Friday, active cases dipped below 200 for the first time since December 20.

The number of active cases now stands at 177 and out of 1,177 tests carried out on Friday just seven positives were detected.

Of the seven, five are local residents and there have been 33 new recoveries from the virus.

But in the last 24 hours there have been two admissions to Victoria Ward, Mr Picardo confirmed.

“The overall picture in St Bernard’s now presents with a total of 13 patients on Victoria Ward, of whom nine are stable or improving,” he said.

“There are nine Covid patients in our Critical Care Unit and seven of these are unfortunately ventilated.”

“As the House knows from my statement last week, we have been able to close John Ward to Covid patients and the Health Authority has reduced its alert level from Black to Red.”

For now, Mr Picardo said, Covid seems to be here to stay.

He confirmed the next delivery of 14,400 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is expected to arrive on Monday, February 8.

Since the vaccine roll-out some 17,189 doses have been administered, of which 13,246 are first doses and 3,943 are second doses.

“The roll out has been magnificent,” Mr Picardo said.

“We will soon start the see those in their mid to late 50s called for appointments as we continue the work of ensuring a ‘whole population’ vaccination regime on the same basis as the United Kingdom.”

The vaccine campaign brings a ray of hope during these otherwise dark times, although the relief could be temporary.

Covid vaccines or boosters could become a yearly ritual, much like the flu jab, due to new emerging strains, Mr Picardo told Parliament.

“But I think we can now start to see at least the beginning of an end to this terrible time,” Mr Picardo said.

“A way out of this time of death and despair.”

“A way through to the way of life we love in this modest but magnificent little part of the world we call home.”

FRONTIER

Frontier flow will not be affected by Covid-19, at least not from the Gibraltar side, Mr Picardo said.

In response to questions from Opposition Leader Keith Azopardi, Mr Picardo did not rule out restrictions at Gibraltar International Airport.

But he warned that local residents should not cross the frontier needlessly.

The Campo de Gibraltar saw 1,200 new cases on Thursday, of this 900 in Algeciras alone.

“Mr Speaker, as we relax our social lock down, it should also be known in Gibraltar generally that the situation in the area around us is very concerning,” Mr Picardo said.

He reminded local residents to travel to Spain only for the specific purposes allowed by Spanish law.

“I remind people that travelling beyond la Linea is strictly controlled and that catering is also closed in La Linea,” Mr Picardo said.

“It is important that any person travelling into Spain should familiarize themselves with the law in Spain surrounding the pandemic.”

“There are different rules from municipality to municipality depending on the level of lock down applied in each.”

RESTRICTIONS

Mr Picardo confirmed the Covid-19 restrictions would continue for another week, including a curfew from 10pm to 6am.

Shops will continue to open only on weekdays and not weekends, and catering establishments will remain shut until March 1.

“Those catering establishments will continue on 100% BEAT,” he said.

“They will also continue to enjoy the other benefits which were provided for other sectors which were closed in January.”

“There are some sectors which are not closed but which are, nonetheless, experiencing difficulties which the Government understands.”

“We are therefore continuing our work in assessing which other sectors or groups need additional help in some way and if that help can be fairly provided.”

Following questions from Mr Azopardi, Mr Picardo said there has been one “particularly heinous” attempt of fraud of BEAT payments which the Government is investigating.

He offered no further details other than to say the relevant authorities had been alerted.

SCHOOLS

Schools will remain shut until February 22, as previously announced with children in continue with home learning in the meantime.

Mr Picardo thanked teachers and recognised the difficulty the closed schools poised for parents.

“I know this has been particularly difficult for parents who have had to combine children at home with continuing in the world of work or even with working from home.

“I don’t know which of those two might have been more difficult.”

“I have often thought of how hard some of the worst permutations of this posture will have been for single parents.”

“For them, as ever, these difficulties will have been amplified as everything obviously is.”

“I empathise and the Government empathises considerably.”

OPPOSITION

Mr Azopardi extended his sympathies to family and friends of the deceased, as well as his thanks to all GHA staff and frontline workers.

“Particular at ERS, I’m sure it must have been a harrowing, harrowing experience for staff members and indeed family members alike,” Mr Azopardi said.

“Our thoughts are with the families and with the friends who lost loved ones during this particular time.”

Mr Azopardi added the party will be pressing for answers how Covid-19 spread in ERS facilities.

He also called for caution as the vaccination programme continues.

“We do not know the twists and turns of this nasty virus,” he said.

“I think it is important there should be caution, there should be realism.”

“While we are moving fast in terms of our vaccination programme, the world will probably need all of 2021 for the vaccine roll out.”

The Leader of Together Gibraltar, Marlene Hassan Nahon, thanked the GHA for their seamless deployment of the vaccines and their care of the vulnerable and elderly.

“We are grateful for these efforts and the support the UK is showing Gibraltar,” Ms Hassan Nahon said.

She questioned the vaccination campaign, the reliability of future supplies and whether Gibraltar could be cut off from receiving Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.

She also challenged the decision to give 16 to 18 year olds their doses before over 50s.

Mr Picardo replied over 50s are not at great risk and the vulnerable have already been inoculated.

He added 14,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will get Gibraltar “very far down the road” and the next age range to receive their jab will be those in their late 50s.

Mr Picardo explained 16 to 18 year olds have a different vector profile and can live with extended and elder family members.

“Here it makes sense before you get into the 40, 50 and 20 year olds to do the 16 to 18 year olds as they are mingling in numbers that the others won’t tend to mingle.”

“That is to say in their hundreds in schools and taking the virus not just into their homes but elsewhere.”

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