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Gibraltar declares 'major incident' and goes into lockdown as virus cases surge

The Gibraltar Government has declared a “major incident posture” for the whole of Gibraltar, while will go into full lockdown as from 10pm Saturday amid a surge in virus cases.

The lockdown will be for 14 days initially but will be reviewed every seven days.

People are only permitted to leave their homes for work, exercise, shop for essentials, medical appointments or emergencies and to exercise children.

“There will be permission to do essentials, but not frivolities,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“But let’s be clear: this is a ‘stay at home’ order.”

Mr Picardo said the number of Covid-19 cases had “more than doubled” in one month, with nearly 1,300 new cases registered during this period.

The 14-day lockdown will act as a “circuit breaker” and will be reviewed by the Gibraltar Government every seven days.

In effect, it amounts to a 24-hour curfew, the Chief Minister told reporters at a press conference in No.6 Convent Place.

Mr Picardo said advice was sought from the Attorney General who confirmed there is a public health exception to implement a lockdown, and this was also discussed with the Leader of the Opposition who agreed the measures are necessary.

“For the next 14 days, you will not be permitted to leave your homes after 10pm tonight unless it is for the reasons you became familiar with in the spring of 2020,” the Chief Minister said.

“That is to say, you will only be able to leave your home to work, to exercise, to shop for the essentials in Gibraltar in the shops that remain open and to take out children.”

“Of course, you will be able to leave home for medical reasons also, whether emergencies or appointments in Gibraltar or outside of Gibraltar.”

“There will be special arrangements for children and persons with special needs.”

“There will be special arrangements for families where children live with one parent and another has residence or visitation rights.”

“There will be permission to take essentials to elderly or otherwise vulnerable relatives.”

“There will be special arrangements for exercising dogs and the need to visit vets for example.”

Richard Ullger, the Commissioner of Police, said the Royal Gibraltar Police would enforce the measures and urged the community to abide by the rules and guidance.

There were 92 new cases registered on the Rock on Saturday, with the total number of active cases rising to 973, and 25 recoveries since the previous day.

Worryingly, the number of hospital patients and those in ERS also increased. There are now 20 patients in the Covid ward, five Covid-19 patients in the CCU ward and 18 positive cases among residents in the ERS, including 16 new cases in Mount Alvernia.

Mr Picardo underscored the impact the spread of the virus is having on frontline GHA and ERS staff, many of whom have also tested positive and have had to self-isolate.

The pressure is building on the GHA, he warned, while adding that this is also happening across other frontline agencies.

“We are left with very little choice if we are going to be able to continue to offer frontline services,” Mr Picardo said.

“We are left with very little choice if we do not want to see an even sharper rise in self-isolations, hospitalisations and deaths.”

Mr Picardo said the R-rate – the figure used to calculate the rate of infection – stood at 1.51 on Saturday, down from 1.79 last Sunday.

But until it drops below one, it means that each person infected with the virus will likely have infected others, and the number of cases will continue to rise.

“The reality is that the numbers of new infections with Covid-19 in our community are remarkably high and concerning,” Mr Picardo said.

“We are seeing rates of growth in new infections which are quite exponential and which are having a serious effect on the numbers of people hospitalised and the numbers of frontline workers in self-isolation.”

“The measures we took before Christmas and just after Christmas also, will not have percolated into these numbers yet.”

“We believe that those measures will have a positive effect on the rates of new infections.”

“But we can also see that the rate of community infection and community transmission is so high that we will not be able to turn down the rate of infection without more drastic measures.”

While the GHA cannot confirm that the new infectious UK variant is present in Gibraltar, Mr Picardo said the social behaviour seen over the past three weeks “will have assisted that new strain or even the original strain to propagate as it has”.

He said it was likely that many of the new cases involved the UK strain, but that this had been confirmed through genome sequencing yet. So far, only a single case has been confirmed.

On crossing the border, Mr Picardo said those who have second homes in Spain or have to go for medical appointments, can continue to move across the frontier.

Even as he spoke, however, the Junta de Andalucia was announcing restrictions on movement between municipalities in the Campo de Gibraltar, where cases have also spiked.

As for businesses that have had to shut due to the first restrictions put in place, Mr Picardo said he has already been in contact with the Chamber of Commerce’s President, Christian Hernandez, to discuss assistance for businesses.

A virtual CELAC meeting will be held early next week to start calibrating assistance for affected businesses in Gibraltar.

Mr Picardo called for the “collective effort” from Gibraltarians in controlling the spread of the virus.
“Our first and foremost resolution for 2021 must be to see the back of this damned virus and get back to freedom as soon as possible,” he said.

"Your Government however, cannot do it alone."

"The GHA cannot deliver this alone."

"Your support is essential."

"And so, alongside the law requiring you to stay at home, I call on each and every one of you to resolve to act in the spirit of this order and to support us in this final push to get beyond this virus."

"That is how we will finally turn the page."

The Chief Minister said the first batch of 5,000 vaccines would arrive in Gibraltar on January 9.

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