Gibraltar has ‘won the first round’ against Covid-19, but now comes the hard part
With Gibraltar having “won the first round” in the fight against Covid-19, the Gibraltar Government will continue to gradually and carefully strip back restrictions against freedom of movement over the next 12 weeks.
The route out of lockdown is set out in a 75-page document published yesterday, even as the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo underscored that the core advice to “stay home” will remain the same.
“This document is not about total freedom as from tomorrow, that is not what it provides for,” he said.
“And although we are taking steps to liberalise our position slowly and gradually, we are not changing our advice for that reason.”
“The virus is still out there,” he added.
The publication of the document comes as the number of active infections has remained in single figures for the last six days.
“Today it is clear that Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians have won the first round against the virus,” Mr Picardo said in the foreword to the document, in which he also highlighted the political cooperation with the Opposition throughout the process.
The situation today contrasts sharply with predictions in mid-March of tens of thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths within a matter of weeks and months, and a health service that would struggle to cope.
Although that devastation has not materialised, Mr Picardo said: “We cannot become complacent.”
The strategy document is therefore a fluid one which sets out more nuanced rules to ensure individuals regain freedoms stripped from them in law out of necessity and businesses have a level of flexibility and certainty going forward.
Those over 70, who were subject to stricter regulations than younger people, will now be put on the same level as the rest of the community.
But this is balanced against measures to reverse or slow down aspects of the unlocking process should the need arise.
The document sets out a seven-phase strategy to gradually and cautiously unlock the restrictions over a 12-week period.
Each of the phases will be divided by a ‘wait and see’ period of between two to three weeks, a cushion that will allow public health experts to assess progress and tweak the strategy as necessary.
“The phases are designed to permit a return to work and a return to social life in a safe and secure way,” Mr Picardo said.
“A gradual way that allows Public Health Gibraltar and the GHA to observe what the effects of the measures that we are taking are and what return of infections we might see during those periods.”
“This is a carefully calibrated step by step approach, that will allow us to finesse how we return each sector to normality.”
The first phase of the unlocking of restrictions involved the reopening of the retail sector and has not led to a surge in the level of infections, clearing the way for the second phase to commence next week.
In the first week of phase two, regulations which affect fundamental rights of freedom of movement will be repealed.
But the regulations which affect your freedom of association will be maintained, including restricting gatherings to less than 12 people.
When phase two commences as from May 18, museums, libraries and exhibitions will return.
If the rate of infection remains low, laws restricting free movement will be lifted.
This is subject to two key caveats in much the same way as the entire document is peppered with warnings about heeding public health advice.
“We will continue to advise that staying at home is the best way to stay safe but we will change our posture,” Mr Picardo said as he addressed the press at the daily briefing from No.6 Convent Place.
Commercial gyms are expected to re-open in phase two but subject to “tight controls” that have yet to be defined in detail.
Parliamentary activity will also return in phase two, with a meeting of Parliament scheduled for May 28.
Construction works within dwellings will also be permitted in phase two, also subject to permits and strict rules of social distancing and the wearing of masks.
Education will also start a phased return as previously set out by the Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi and as agreed with the teachers’ union.
Assuming infection levels remain low, phase three will commence on June 1 with the return of religious worship, but subject to “very strict distancing controls.”
This phase will also provide for the return of public transport and the closure of Chatham Counterguard and the part closure of Line Wall Road.
Some theatrical, musical and dance performances will be permitted without a live audience for filming and broadcast purposes.
Restaurants will be able to re-open with restrictions of up to 50% in terms of occupancy.
Public Health permits will be required for the opening of restaurants.
Finally, in phase four, from June 16, the Government will look to re-open bars and cafeterias subject to Public Health permits.
The next two phases, phase five and phase six will act as review phases for restaurants, bars, cafeterias and gyms.
Those that will still have restrictions in place and will see a further loosening of those restrictions over those phases.
The document published yesterday includes a summary of everything that has happened to date in Gibraltar’s Covid-19 response, including how the Gibraltar Health Authority has prepared for the worst case scenario.
It also outlines how the government will step up its contact tracing to rapidly stamp out any clusters of infection as they arise.
They include measures requiring people who have been in contact with any infected persons to self-isolate to prevent further infection.
The document defines the circumstances under which such measures will be required, and details of how the contact tracing will operate in practice.
But the message is that Gibraltar is ready for the task and will continue to bolster its response mechanisms.
“As we go into round two, the virus remains as deadly as it ever was, but we join in this next phase of the battle with a veritable new arsenal of knowledge, strategies and technologies that we simply did not have six short weeks ago,” the document said.
“In March we were facing the uncertainty and the concern of simply not knowing how far the virus had already spread nor the extent to which it would bring pain to our community. Today, we have the best health resources, the best people and the testing capacity to deal with a second or third surge, but we do not propose to rest on our laurels or ‘wait and see’.”
The document also sets out specific goals relating to different sectors including the public sector, business, sport and the environment, many of which have already been set out in briefings over the past eight weeks.