Govt tightens Covid-19 restrictions, stops short of full lockdown
New Covid-19 measures were introduced on Monday amid fears of an “exponential” rise in the number of active cases in Gibraltar, which are at a record-high of 202 cases.
Over the past five days, the number of active cases rose by 131 cases, echoing trends seen across the United Kingdom and Europe and against the backdrop of news of a new strain of the Covid-19 virus.
And as he announced the measures in Parliament, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo warned against complacency.
“What is clear is that the old and new strains of Covid-19 have found, at least in Gibraltar, at least a new ally,” he said.
“The most powerful ally a virus can find - apathy and irresponsibility.”
“Apathy and irresponsibility in very few but having an effect on very many.”
With the festive season upon us, the Gibraltar Government advises only three households should mix at Christmas in family homes.
Mr Picardo said that while the Government will not legislate to police this, he urged Gibraltarians to “police themselves”.
And while the Gibraltar Government will not lock down those over the age of 70, they are advised to “act as if they were legally locked down”.
Golden hour is cancelled until January 11, and those in this age range are asked to stay at home unless they need to move for work or any other emergencies.
“Please, I urge our over 70-year olds, please don’t allow a lunch date get in the way of your continued existence,” Mr Picardo said, in his stark message.
“Please do not go to your children’s home for Christmas lunch.”
“Do not go to your relatives. Stay home.”
“I know this is bad, especially at Christmas. But the alternative is worse – It’s lonelier in a coffin.”
Other measures introduced included the wearing of masks in all public places as from midnight.
In addition, all catering establishments will be closed to diners until at least January 11 and perhaps longer if necessary, but exceptions will be made for takeaway and delivery services.
Mr Picardo said the Government will be funding losses in the industry in a number of different ways for those that have complied with all Covid-19 regulations, adding that those who have not complied will not be compensated.
As for retail, although non-essential retail can remain open, there will be restrictions on entry and movement in all retail establishments.
This includes tight controls on the numbers in each shops, tight control on hygiene on entry and exit from the shops, with these designed to allow retail to keep open for now.
All gyms will be closed as from Tuesday and all permits for other sports are also cancelled and this includes the annual Polar Bear swim and other organised activities.
Religious worship in person will be cancelled, and GBC has already confirmed it will broadcast Midnight Mass from the Vatican in Rome alongside other arrangements for the other days.
Schools will unlikely reopen on January 7, but instead will open on January 11.
However, parents are being advised to make arrangements in case they do not open on that date for another week or two.
“Arrangements will be made for digital teaching systems to operate as they have to date for as long as necessary in the following weeks,” Mr Picardo said, adding that he will make a further announcement for schools on December 27 during a live press conference.
In addition, those who can work remotely are being encouraged to do so, and to stay away from the work place completely over the Christmas break.
Mr Picardo urged offices to avoid socialising in work places, including “comelonas”, adding that this could “create an unnecessary vector for infection”.
Gibraltar will continue to work with the UK’s Department of Transport to continue air links with the UK, but arrivals from London will be required to show a current, negative Covid-19 test taken no earlier than three days before arrival or take the rapid test at the airport on arrival.
While Gibraltar will not impose restrictions on travel to Spain, the Spanish Government has announced that it will impose re-inforced controls at the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.
It is not yet clear what shape those controls will take.
A major incident has been declared within the GHA to be able to deal with a potential rapid rise in the number of admissions arising from the increase in the number of cases.
This means that only priority surgeries, interventions, investigations and outpatient appointments will take place, with other routine appointments postponed until it is deemed safe for patients to return to hospital.
No visitors will be allowed into GHA premises and visits to family members in Elderly Residential Services has also been cancelled.
All GHA staff leave is cancelled and staff is being actively recalled to work or redeployed to other departments.
The GHA is also gearing up for the reopening of the Nightingale Hospital.
“So, in summary, our advice as from today is to stay home,” Mr Picardo said in his statement.
“Work from home if you can, go out only if you have to.”
“This is not what we want to announce, especially in the run-up to Christmas.”
“But it is what we have to announce.”
“No one dies from missing a Christmas party.”
“No one dies because they were not able to go out to shop for the present they wanted to gift to a loved one.”
“No one dies from not having a drink with friends or work mates.”
“But a vulnerable or elderly person may die if we do not follow these rules.”
“And that is why we are doing this - to protect the vulnerable.”
“Because we are now in a race, literally to the death in some instances, for the vaccine to prevent these measures being required.”
“That is what will really protect our elderly and infirm.”
“A vaccine that ensures this virus can become water off a duck’s back.”
Mr Picardo called on the community to work together in order to tackle Covid-19, while being critical of those who protested restrictions on Friday or those who were “running off to party in Spain”.
“Some of our people have to stop behaving as if nothing is happening,” he said.
“They have to realise that we have in reality to confront this virus, a virus which knows no season, knows no feast and knows no religion.”
“Just as Eid, Diwali and Passover and Hanukkah have been badly affected and restricted this year, so will Christmas be.”