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Gib registers highest overnight spike in Covid-19 cases

Johnny Bugeja

Gibraltar on Friday confirmed the highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks and one of the steepest spikes since the start of the pandemic, with 16 more people, all residents, testing positive for the virus overnight.

The increase came as the Gibraltar Government said analysis of tests during the recent “surge” in cases showed nearly four out of every 10 people detected with Covid-19 were asymptomatic, meaning they had no symptoms of the virus.

That, it added, underscored the need for strict compliance with public health measures including social distance and mask use, to ensure people who might be infected but otherwise felt healthy did not inadvertently spread the virus to others, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

The increase brought the total number of active cases up to 69 on the Rock, with 68 residents and one visitor recovering from the virus at home, while one person continues to recover in the Covid ward in the hospital.

At present there are 411 people self-isolating, while statistics yesterday showed 28 test results pending. Some 12 people had recovered between Thursday and Friday too.

And in another, more positive, landmark, the Government of Gibraltar this week surpassed 50,000 tests carried out on the population since the start of the testing programme.

The Government now aims to increase its capacity for testing to reach 1,000 tests per day.

“This is a measure of the commitment of the Government to this important part of the health protection,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place told the Chronicle.

In addition, as from this week, the GHA will be able to “pool” samples of Covid-19 tests.

“This means that a number of tests can be assessed by collecting samples in one test,” the spokesman said.

“If negative, all are negative.”

“If positive, each will be tested again, individually.”

“This is a new development, and with experience and practice, we will be able to ramp up capacity further, if necessary.”

“Other countries already practice pooling.”

“We will pool ‘by default’.”

“The open frontier means we must be able to quickly and reliably identify infections, before they have a chance to spread more widely, and in this way we will suppress the growth of the virus.”

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said Gibraltar was testing more than most other countries when extrapolated to tests per 100,000 people, the standard global measure.

“And I don’t say this to gloat or to show off,” he said.

“Covid is not a competition.”

“I say that to give you confidence in our numbers.”

Mr Picardo said a new fortnightly cycle of testing will be introduced, to allow for an extra 1,000 tests to be carried out every two weeks in schools, using a new saliva-based test.

The Government said it has noted certain trends during the past 50,000 tests, with more asymptomatic cases in this recent surge of positive cases.

“The current surge has seen 257 cases of which 99, or 38.5%, have been asymptomatic individuals,” the Government spokesman said.

“Conversely, the previous wave had 144 cases of which 12, or 8.3%, were asymptomatic; 10 of those 12 were part of the random population sample.”

“41% of cases were over 60 in England as at 30 July whereas [in Gibraltar] only 13% of our cases have been over 60, so this may account for the more benign course of disease here.”

“If young people pass on the infection to their respected elders, then we may have more unfortunate experiences in the course of the illness.”

The Government of Gibraltar intends to move over to saliva testing in the next few weeks, and will trial the best way to issue and collect samples as well as provide a reliable way for saliva, not sputum or phlegm, to be collected in a pot.

It said that it would need 4ml of saliva for the best results.

It said a “rolling random” prevalence survey of people in Gibraltar who are older than 11 years of age will also be conducted as part of the larger testing capacity and more accessible saliva testing.

“The ONS provides modelled prevalence survey in conjunction with the University of Oxford,” the spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.

“Our survey will provide real-time actual data, though if the surge declines, data will become subject to error.”

When questioned on whether the Government will reintroduce testing for members of the public such as those tests carried out in the Piazza, the spokesman said: “There has to be a defined epidemiological purpose for testing.”

“No test is perfect, and can randomly produce false positives, especially if tested in low prevalence populations or locations.”

“Our rolling random prevalence survey will help determine testing strategy to maximise outcomes, without creating undue concern and anxiety.”