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GHA explores possible virus link after 57-year old man dies

The Gibraltar Health Authority is awaiting swab results that will determine whether a 57-year old man who died on Thursday had the Covid-19 virus. If confirmed, this will be Gibraltar’s first death linked to the virus. 

A swab was taken from the deceased man and this will be analysed in addition to a post-mortem examination which is expected to take place in the coming days. 

Speaking at the 4pm press conference yesterday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said: “I know everyone in our community will be heartbroken to see this cruel disease may have taken its first Gibraltarian victim, although I want to emphasise that this cannot yet be confirmed as a death from Covid.”

Symptoms were very suggestive that this death may have been linked to Covid-19, Mr Picardo said, although early indications are that the man appeared to have died as a result of a cardiac arrest.

The man was in the high-risk category, had long-term ongoing medical conditions, and had been self-isolating for over three weeks prior to his death. 

He had telephoned the GHA’s 111 number during that time but had not been swabbed and had been advised to self-isolate at home because his symptoms were mild.

He phoned for a third time the night before his death, which led to an ambulance being despatched to his home.

Acting Medical Director Dr Krishna Rawal said the man first called 111 on March 23 but reported only a dry cough and a runny nose. He did not indicate that he had underlying medical conditions at this point. 

“He was taken through the full algorithm in terms of the questions by the person who received the call,” Dr Rawal said. 

“He certainly did not admit to a fever or any other symptoms, in fact he also discussed with the person on the other end of the 111 line that he had already been self-isolating for 10 days due to his minor symptoms.” 

Dr Rawal said the man’s symptoms were not worsening - a key criteria for the GHA - and were very mild. 

“He did not at the time volunteer any further information,” he added. 

“We are learning all the time about this virus and at the end of every call to 111, everyone is advised to always call and seek advice again if they are worried in any single way,” Dr Rawal said. 

The man had called back three days prior to his death but there was no change in the advice.

He called 111 again on Wednesday night at approximately 11.45pm to say that he was suffering from shortness of breath, which is a symptom of Covid-19. 

An ambulance was despatched and, on arrival, he was found by paramedics to be suffering from cardiac arrest. Attempts to resuscitate at home and at A&E were unsuccessful.

Dr Rawal said the GHA had acted entirely in accordance with the guidance in its earlier contacts with the man, given his description of mild symptoms. 

The Government said it was grateful to the family of the deceased for contacting the authorities with additional information to help provide background to the case.

Mr Picardo and Dr Rawal also offered their condolences to the family of the deceased. 

On social media, there were scores of expressions of condolence from across the community.

The Coroner was also informed, as is routine in any case of unexpected death where the causes have yet to be formally established.

News of the death was revealed early yesterday by the government in a statement that drew some criticism over concerns the announcement should have been held back until the virus link was either confirmed or ruled out.

But Mr Picardo reiterated that, given the community-wide concern about Covid-19, it was important for the government to be as transparent as possible as quickly as possible in order to avoid ill-informed speculation, particularly with tragic developments of this nature.

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