Govt confirms another seven Delta variant infections, as active Covid cases reach 24
By Gabriella Peralta and Brian Reyes
The Gibraltar Government on Friday confirmed another seven cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Gibraltar, bringing the total number of cases of this more transmissible strain of the virus to 11.
That means that the Delta, or Indian, strain of the virus now accounts for nearly half of all 24 active cases currently detected on the Rock.
The seven were detected among people who had tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week. They only came to light on Friday because it takes 48 hours for the genome sequencing used to identify the strains.
The details came as the government also confirmed another three visitor cases in Gibraltar, bringing the total number of active Covid cases in Gibraltar yesterday to 24, 13 of them residents.
Health officials are monitoring the new cases very closely but say it is too soon to draw any inferences on the spread of infection, with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people affected.
They highlight too that while the number of infections has risen over the past week, there are no people in hospital.
But the emergence of the Delta strain in recent days has underscored the need for caution in Gibraltar, particularly given the influx of travellers from the UK thanks to the Rock’s status as a UK green list destination.
That has enabled businesses to begin recovering the losses suffered during the lockdown periods, in a careful balance of risk made possible in large measure by the community-wide vaccination program completed earlier this year.
Seven of the 11 cases of the Delta strain detected in Gibraltar are visitors, but in at least one of the four remaining resident cases, the person had not been overseas recently or in contact with another confirmed case, a Gibraltar Government spokesman told the Chronicle.
New figures released in the UK yesterday show that cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 first identified in India have risen 46% in a week across the UK.
Public Health England (PHE) said there had been 35,204 more cases since last week to reach a total of 111,157 – a 46% increase.
But while the Delta variant now accounts for around 95% of new cases sequenced in the UK, PHE said vaccines continue to have a “crucial effect on hospital admission and death”.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Through the success of our vaccination programme, data suggest we have begun to break the link between cases and hospitalisations. This is hugely encouraging news, but we cannot become complacent.”
“Whilst vaccines provide excellent protection, they do not provide total protection, so it is still as important as ever that we continue to exercise caution.”
“Protect yourself and the people around you by working from home where possible, and by practising ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ at all times.”
As Coronavirus statistics continued their downwards trend in Andalucía and in Spain as a whole, on Thursday the Spanish cabinet eased rules governing the use of facemasks nationwide, but raised criticism in doing so.
Masks are no longer required to be worn in an outdoor setting where social distancing between cohabiting groups is possible, Carolina Darias, Spain’s health minister, explained.
In cases where a 1.5 metre distance cannot be maintained, such as in open-air festivals, the requirement to wear masks still stands, as it does should an individual enter an enclosed area, such as a shop or office.
Likewise, a mask is required on public transport and their stations, and car passengers must also wear masks unless all passengers are in the same ‘bubble’.
In any case, a face mask should be carried when leaving the home. “We should keep a mask with us,” she said, “even though we don’t have to wear one all the time.”
Spain’s health ministry has explained that this relaxation of the rules has come about thanks to the progress made both in controlling the infection and the vaccination program.
As of Wednesday, more than 32% of the country’s population has received both doses of vaccine, with another 18% protected by one dose.
These figures, especially those referring to the over-80s and over-70s age groups (100% and 96.4% fully vaccinated) and the over-60s and over-50s (93.2% and 86.3% protected by at least one dose), have meant that the government has felt it safe to legislate a relaxation of the law.
Ms Darias said that this was part of a gradual and prudent process of return to normality, “freeing us from wearing masks in those spaces where it is recognised that [the risk of] transmission is considerably lower.”
“Our smiles return to our streets.”
But the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, was of a different opinion and called for a continuation of the mask wearing rules, saying that the decision to relax those requirements had been taken “hastily”, an accusation he also levelled at the government’s earlier decision to end the state of emergency.
He said he believed that “there is a kind of anxiety in the central government to announce good news, and that this good news is not accompanied by the backing of scientific committees or input from the autonomous communities, but are measures imposed [on everyone] that incur a certain risk.”
Furthermore, he said that the government’s announcements could be generating a false sense of security which could lead citizens to ignore the safety regulations, and pointed out that countries that relaxed the rules on wearing masks, such as Portugal and Israel, had to row back soon afterwards.
There is also a possibility, he argued, that since the Delta variant of Covid-19 had been detected in Gibraltar, it could become the dominant strain in Andalucía, overtaking the Alpha (or Kent) variant.
Mr Moreno concluded with a call to citizens to wear masks when at all possible since, even when fully vaccinated, an individual can still be infected and infect others.