Government unveils Covid-19 exit strategy after two-year 'arduous journey'
Gibraltar will be stepping down from its current Covid-19 posture as Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and the Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, announced the phased easing of restrictions on Friday afternoon.
Mr Picardo described this as âa population taking more personal responsibility and much less imposition by Governmentâ.
Speaking from No.6 Convent Place almost two years from when Covid-19 were first introduced, he described the past two years as an âarduous journeyâ.
âWe have sought to protect the Community whilst constantly reviewing measures to ensure that any restrictions were appropriate and proportionate,â he said.
âWe have taken measures to preserve life and protect our GHA which have had severe consequences for our economy and which have decimated our public finances.â
âWe have curtailed personal freedoms and civil rights to preserve life and protect our GHA.â
âSo I am relieved to finally be in a position to announce a marked de-escalation.â
âGibraltar has achieved this thanks principally to our strong community values.â
âWe cannot and must not lose sight of that.â
Mr Picardo underscored Gibraltarâs âimpressive vaccination programmeâ which helped to âsuccessfully protect most people from severe disease and hospitalisationâ.
Nevertheless, the Chief Minister advised caution, adding that Gibraltar will maintain a specific focus on continuing to protect the most vulnerable in the community from unnecessary risk.
The Exit Strategy announced by the Government came in three phrases.
The first included the immediate lifting of compulsory facemasks in retail shops and public transport.
Facemasks will continue to be required in GHA, ERS and private healthcare settings, and those who are vulnerable are advised to continue wearing facemasks if needed.
As from Friday, Covid-19 permits will no longer be required for nightclubs, restaurants, cafeterias and bars operating in Gibraltar.
As from March 18, passengers entering Gibraltar via the Gibraltar International Airport or Gibraltar Port will no longer be required to carry out Covid-19 tests on arrival.
Passengers arriving in Gibraltar by air will no longer be required to submit a Passenger Locator Forms either.
In three weeksâ time, that is March 25, unvaccinated close contacts of Covid-19 positive cases will no longer be required to self-isolate.
Mr Picardo said healthcare workers will continue to be individually risk assessed on a case-by-case basis, adding that a model of supervised testing will remain in place.
Unlike the UK, those who have tested positive with Covid-19 in Gibraltar will continue to have to self-isolate in line with the established day six and day seven testing regime, but this will be kept under review.
Those over 60 will also be offered the second booster doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
The Contact Tracing Bureau will also scale back on its operations but will maintain a limited function with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable. Mr Picardo said the Government will retain the ability to upscale these functions if necessary.
There will be strategic changes to the Covid-19 testing regime in Gibraltar, with a view to increasing the capacity of private sector providers, but further information will be available in due course.
Mr Picardo said specific Covid-19 mitigation measures will remain in place in the GHA, ERS and other high risk setting with the aim of protecting the elderly, the immunocompromised and other at-risk groups.
âUNIQUEâ EXIT STRATEGY
The Director for Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, said Gibraltarâs Covid-19 exit strategy is âunique to its circumstancesâ.
âIt is informed, of course, by developments in the United Kingdom and elsewhere,â Dr Carter said.
âBut it is tailored to our specific situation and needs. The strategy plans for a cautious approach.â
âIt provides for the scaling back of restrictions, but not stopping the response entirely.â
âGibraltarâs particular epidemiology means that we can move to the next phase whilst continuing to protect the most vulnerable.â
âWe will do so whilst continuously monitoring global developments.â
âWe will be looking out for any new variants of concern.â
âAnd we will be adjusting Gibraltarâs posture if necessary.â
âI ask everyone to remain cautious.â
âThe pandemic is not over.â
As Gibraltar returns to a semblance of normality, it can begin to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Picardo said.
The Covid inquiry will be convened in coming weeks and Mr Picardo paid tribute to those 101 lives lost to the virus in Gibraltar.
âI will always remember this period,â he said.
âI will never forget that loss of life on my watch.â
âI will remember every letter of condolence I have written to each bereaved family.â
The Government will soon announce a multi-faith and multicultural event to remember those who died of Covid, and a Covid-19 memorial will also be announced soon after a competition run by the Ministry of Culture.
The Chief Minister confirmed that Gibraltar will continue to publish its daily Covid-19 figures on weekdays.
âThe World Health Organisation is still seeking that nations publish and report their figures, so we are going to continue to act in keeping with the WHO and continue to publish them,â Mr Picardo said.
Despite easing restrictions, Mr Picardo reminded the pandemic is still ongoing.
âThe virus is still here and we canât simply begin to ignore the fact because it might be politically popular,â he said.
âThe Government has a responsibility to be the adult in the room.â
âWe cannot simply do what is popular.â
âWe have to do what is right.â
Quizzed on the delays to medical services provided by the GHA, Mr Picardo said there would be a need for a âperiod of adjustmentâ and is not going to be resolved next week.
The Minister for Health, Samantha Sacramento, is leading on ârestarting and recoveringâ the GHA under a new policy, and that is being taken forward by the GHA Board.
âIf you have a six-month waiting list for a particular ailment to be resolved, that is not going to be resolved in a week or two although addressing those periods of waiting is going to be one of the things that we are going to do and we are going to invest in in the coming financial year,â Mr Picardo said.