GHA introduces mask wearing to curb spread of winter infections
The Gibraltar Health Authority has reintroduced its mask wearing policy in a bid to curb the spread of winter viruses after an increase in cases locally.
The Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, told the Chronicle this was due to an increase of viruses including Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), seasonal influenza, Covid-19 and Group A Streptococcus (GAS), which has caused a layering effect.
She said mask wearing has been reintroduced to avoid a spread just ahead of Christmas and urged the public to be responsible by not visiting their loved ones if they have any symptoms.
The mask wearing policy was introduced with immediate effect on Tuesday afternoon with a security guard handing out masks to visitors at St Bernard’s Hospital.
"Before the pandemic every year we always had seasonal flu and RSV, and we wouldn't have initiated mask wearing before the pandemic," Dr Carter said.
"What's unusual at the moment is we've had two years of reduced mixing and two of potentially reduced immunity. That's then resulted in us getting a layering effect."
"Normally there's a bit of breathing space between having a wave of RSV, then we have a wave of flu, and then Group A Strep is normally slightly after that."
"We're seeing that layering effect of all of these winter viruses are coming at the same time as well as us having a surge in Covid cases."
"So each wave on its own wouldn't have necessarily triggered this, it's a combination of all of it happening before Christmas."
Dr Carter added the precaution looks towards curbing the spread just before Christmas in a bid to free up beds.
This will ensure bed capacity during the festive break.
The increase in cases, Dr Carter said, is likely due in part to the inclement weather, which has seen people more likely to gather indoors.
This increase, however, not was unexpected and the measures are precautionary to protect patients and staff.
She added this decision has seen the rating for mask wearing turn up to 'red' from the previous amber rating.
"We are confident once we get through this wave we'll be able to step it back down again to the amber, and hopefully during 2023 we will be able to step it back further into that green level of measures," Dr Carter said.
The measures include the Primary Care Centre and anyone attending should wear a mask upon entry.
Dr Carter recognised this is a time where people visit loved ones and advised the public should not visit the GHA or ERS until 48 hours after any symptoms have ended.
For those planning to take out their relatives in ERS or GHA to have Christmas lunch, Dr Carter advised families should think about ventilation and mask wearing.
The Director General, Prof Patrick Geoghegan, said this is a temporary measure and will be kept under review.
“When presentations of winter infections reduce, the requirements will be rolled back again,” he said.
“The GHA appreciates the support of our staff, our patients and our visitors in working with us to keep our patients protected and safe.”
Flu vaccines are also recommended for those over 50, pregnant, immunocompromised, or with a long-term health condition.
The GHA’s flu vaccine clinic at the Primary Care Centre is open for walk-ins from 1pm to 8pm on weekdays and from 8am to 2pm on weekends.
Appointments can also be pre-booked by calling 200 52441.