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Gibraltar takes strict approach to coronavirus precautions, but nothing is risk free

Johnny Bugeja

Gibraltar is taking no chances in its efforts to swiftly identify and contain any possible cases of coronavirus on the Rock, but officials admit that the steps “are not risk free”.

The measures mean every person who enters Gibraltar within two weeks of visiting a risk country must self-isolate.

This is stricter than in the UK, where self-isolation only comes into force when a person experiences symptoms after visiting a risk country.

But despite Gibraltar’s tougher approach, questions remains. What happens, for example, to other passengers who unknowingly share a plane with a person travelling back from a risk area? The person who visited the risk area is obliged to report to the authorities and self-isolate, but what about the others?

A Gibraltar Government spokesman explained that the extra precautions being taken in Gibraltar are purely to mitigate risk.
“We need to bear in mind that we have adopted a more cautious approach compared to the UK,” the spokesman said.

“As you know UK’s advice for self-isolation is for people who have been to any of the specified countries and are experiencing symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty in breathing).”

“Only those who have been in Iran, specific lockdown areas in northern Italy, ‘special care zones’ in South Korea or Hubei province in China are asked to self-isolate whether or not they have symptoms.”

“Gibraltar, on the other hand, makes a requirement to self-isolate if you have come from any of the countries listed on the schedule, even if you don’t have any symptoms.”

“This is all about risk management and Government’s intent is to reduce the level of risk as much as it possibly can.”

“We cannot eradicate the risk completely but we aim to make it as negligible as possible.”

Ultimately, the aim of the strategy is to minimise any possible contact in case a traveller returns to Gibraltar and later develops symptoms.

“Of course, there will be many people freely travelling around the UK and Europe who have recently been in the specified countries but haven’t got any symptoms,” the spokesman said.

“In the UK, they will go to cinemas, restaurants, travel on public transport and even get on flights.”

“We cannot stop this but what we are doing is minimising the risk of infection by asking those who arrive in Gibraltar to self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the date of their departure.”

Upon arrival those returning from risk areas should make themselves known in the airport and if needed transport will be arranged by the government.

“We also ask them not to use public transport or taxis to take them to their place of self-isolation,” the spokesman added.

“They either use their own transport or Government provides transport for them. This is part of Government’s containment strategy and should there be a future confirmed case it will make the task of contact tracing that much easier as the ‘potential’ source of infection is contained.”

“Unfortunately, life is not risk-free. Getting on a plane, crossing a road and driving a car all have its risks.”

“It’s all about managing risks and this is exactly what Government’s measures aims to achieve.”

The government lists current countries of concern to include: China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Iran, Northern Italy (regions of Aosta Valley, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Veneto), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Tenerife.

The list of at-risk countries totalling 16 was updated earlier this week following reported cases in Northern Italy and Tenerife.

Figures from Monday showed almost 60 people had self-isolated in Gibraltar, with the first instance on January 27 after a person returned from mainland China.

The government had added this figure was expected to “change rapidly” due to the change of countries of concern.

Strict hygiene more effective than masks, officials say

Public Health Gibraltar is urging people not to buy medical masks, despite a surge in local demand on the back of coronavirus fears.

Local pharmacies and wholesalers recently ran out of medical face masks after a surge of consumer demand due to concerns about the global coronavirus outbreak.

Items such as hand sanitiser also sold out amid the panic buying, but now a recent restock has seen masks sold at a local pharmacy for £6 each, or £120 for a box of 20.

In a video clip published on ‘Public Health Gibraltar’s YouTube channel, Director of Public Health Dr Sohail Bhatti has urged people not to use medical masks.

“Masks only last about 15 minutes at best,” Dr Bhatti said.

“The problem is they give you a false sense of security. The way it is spread is through droplets, i.e. coughing and sneezing, so a distance of two metres away from someone is considered to be safe.”

“All the masks do is create panic and I think that doesn’t help. We are advising people not to wear masks. It is not necessary.”

Public Health Gibraltar recommends rigorous hygiene and washing of hands of a minimum of 90 seconds.

If water is not available, they recommend people to use hand sanitiser instead.

“You catch all respiratory infections from touching buttons, handles and those things that we share,” Dr Bhatti said in a video statement.

He added: “Don’t spread anything. Use a hanky, throw it into a wastepaper basket and then wash your hands. Catch it, bin it, kill it.”

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