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Govt earmarks Europa Point Complex and Retreat Centre as virus facilities

Pic: Stephen Ignacio

The Gibraltar Government has earmarked the Europa Point Sports Complex has a field hospital and the Europa Retreat Centre as an isolation facility, as the GHA cancels non-urgent services in anticipation for an increase of coronavirus cases.
The development comes as the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a pandemic, with over 2,000 confirmed cases in Spain.
The GHA now anticipating an increase of cases locally, and the cancellations have been implemented to ensure any asymptomatic patient attending the Primary Care Centre or St Bernard’s Hospital does not inadvertently infect vulnerable patients and healthcare workers.
The cancellations form part of a “phase of containment” of the virus, and to prevent a potential spread.
“I am confident that Gibraltar is taking all possible measures in order to prevent the spread of infection locally and to increase the resilience of our healthcare providers and other public services,” said Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia.
“I am completely satisfied by Gibraltar’s response to its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and am delighted that the patient was able to recover completely at home, with the support of many of our hardworking professionals.”
“The next step is to ensure that this can be repeated seamlessly if further cases are confirmed. I am entirely confident that it will be.”
All GHA clinical teams have been instructed to reduce “non-essential, non-urgent and routine
services as a preparation for an anticipated increase in cases of COVID-19 infections.”
“All non-essential and non-urgent services including surgery, are being reduced this week with a view to being stopped by the end of the week,” the GHA said.
“All urgent and emergency surgery, essential appointments and services will continue as normal, including all urgent cancer cases which will not be affected.”
“This may mean that routine surgeries and treatments, outpatient and GP appointments including follow ups, and any non-essential services may be postponed, or carried out by telephone or from an offsite location.”
Emergency surgery will continue, and urgent surgery, for example in cancer cases, will be considered on a case-by-case basis after an individual risk assessment.
“Clinics have been reduced to the absolutely necessary, whilst service provision is being maintained by telephone wherever possible,” the Gibraltar Government said in a statement yesterday.
“In order to reduce the risk of germs spreading in waiting areas, staff will triage patients before they enter a waiting area. Any individual who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has travelled to an at-risk area will be asked to go home.”
The GHA added these plans will constantly be reviewed and updated and patients will be informed if or when there are any changes to their scheduled appointments.
All events at the Europa Retreat Centre have been cancelled, so the building can be used as an isolation facility if it is required, the government said yesterday.
“Within the GHA, plans are being implemented to ensure that isolated wards for COVID-19 patients are available if they are needed,” the government said in a statement.
“This includes measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the hospital.”
“To this purpose, all elective surgery in the hospital has been cancelled and patients can expect an increase in time on the waiting list for elective surgery for the time being.”
“The GHA emphasises that whilst this may be frustrating, it is a necessary measure that frees up staff and resources for those who need it the most.”
The government added healthcare providers and public services are doing everything possible to ensure that Gibraltar is able to continue as normally as possible.
To the drive-through testing facility to be established at Rooke within the next few days, works are currently underway at the Europa Point Sports Complex in order for it to be used as a field hospital, if necessary.
“If it is needed, this will reduce the risk of infection spread at St Bernard’s hospital and provide extra resilience for the GHA,” the government said.

PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
A Public Information Office will be set up to operate as a call centre, staffed by public servants, to provide general information and advice on coronavirus COVID-19.
The government said this will alleviate pressure on the 111 service and keep the 111 phone lines open for those who need to report travel to at-risk areas and/or coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms.
There are also plans for coronavirus COVID-19 local situation updates, which are currently
disseminated through the local media, to be distributed to every Gibtelecom mobile number via WhatsApp.

ELDERLY AND VULNERABLE
The government has also advised the elderly and vulnerable to avoid public transport, large
gatherings and leaving their homes unless necessary.
The government added: “it is inevitable that further, more drastic, measures will be necessary in due course as the situation progresses both locally and internationally.”
This advice applies not only to the elderly (generally over the age of 70), but also to persons with a weakened immune system, such as those suffering from cancer, or on special medication, in particular those with long term conditions like heart disease, poorly controlled diabetes, poorly managed blood pressure and chronic lung disease.
“It is important to understand that this is for their own protection because this category of people has been identified as the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19,” the government said.
“It is also important to exercise common sense in the event that this category of persons has no option but to leave their home.”
“This includes following the hygiene advice that has already been given, avoiding public transport and avoiding shopping in supermarkets or other establishments during peak hours.”
“In other words, shopping for food early in the morning or later on in the evening is more sensible because there are fewer people around.”
The government added the advice is to delay and reduce the impact of Covid-19 on Gibraltar, that will allow medical and public services to cope with the projected demand.
The measures outlined below are designed to increase social spaces and distancing especially for the most elderly and the most vulnerable.
Key advice from the government includes:
Avoid leaving home - Senior citizens (over 70s) should stay at home and limit social contact as much as possible. This includes with their own family members. It is important that they refrain from carrying out any childcare responsibilities, however difficult this may be for them.
Limit access to residential settings - Given the high density of vulnerable elderly, the number of visits should be reduced to an absolute minimum. Families are encouraged to make contact and keep in touch by other means, including telephone, Facetime and WhatsApp. This applies to all vulnerable persons regardless of where they live. Institutions like Elderly Residential Services have already taken measures and these are under constant review.
The Housing Department will now issue new advice to its tenants in elderly residential
accommodation, these being Charles Bruzon House, Albert Risso House and Bishop Canilla House.
The measures include restricting visitors only to those that are absolutely essential, additional deep cleaning of the common areas and the closure until further notice of the common rooms. This will be subject to review.
Limit activities for senior citizens (over 70s) - Some over 70s engage in healthy and active social life within Gibraltar. The number of social activities will need to be limited as this will decrease the number of opportunities for infection.
Limit means of travel for the elderly - The current advice is that the elderly and persons falling in the vulnerable category should avoid public transport.
Limit collective worship - On the advice of Public Health Gibraltar, the Government has maintained on-going engagement with religious institutions in order to agree a number of action points which aim to reduce religious gatherings in the same way as cultural, social and sporting gatherings have also been reduced.
Avoid unnecessary movement - In general, this category of persons should keep their movement to a minimum and only if absolutely necessary. Persons experiencing any cold-like symptoms are
encouraged to stay at home and follow advice. This response is pro-active and non-pharmaceutical and is based on the phase at which the virus has been identified as a result of modelling taken from other countries. It is important to prepare and to take all the necessary precautions which are based on expert advice. The Government, Public Health Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Health Authority urge the public to heed all the advice that has been given so far which is for the protection and the wider good of Gibraltar as a whole.