Govt tightens Covid measures further, including night-time curfew and closure of non-essential shops
The Gibraltar Government tightened Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday, ordering all non-essential shops to shut, reducing the size of gatherings to 12 and imposing a curfew from 10pm to 6am.
As the R number in Gibraltar rose to 1.79, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said “a firebreak” was necessary in order to rein in the spread of the virus, which is “twice as infectious” as it was before.
The curfew will begin as from tonight, with the only exceptions for people who are undertaking employment, for the delivery of food, to walk a dog and in cases where medical attention is required.
There will be no restrictions on movement during the day, but the strong advice remains that people should stay at home unless exercising or walking a pet or for one of the other exceptional reasons provided for.
There will be one exception to the curfew on New Year’s Eve where there shall be no curfew, a measure aimed at ensuring people who are alone are able to be with close family.
The strong advice now however is that no more than two households should mix.
The Chief Minister was speaking as Gibraltar reported another 68 positive cases overnight, bringing the total to 482. There are 10 people in hospital, one of them in the critical care unit.
Additionally, there are 1,703 people in self-isolation, with the public sector under immense pressure to continue delivering vital services as many people are unable to attend their places of work.
Mr Picardo said it was too soon to see the effect of measures announced in Parliament in the run-up to Christmas and that the current spike was the result of the spread of the virus prior to that announcement.
And he warned that officials could not rule out “a spike over the spike” before the cumulative effects of all of the measures came into play, adding that without these restrictions the pandemic could prove “potentially one of the worst crises Gibraltar has ever faced”.
“That means that if we continue meeting and congregating outside of our households as if nothing was going on, the virus will continue to spread like wildfire,” Mr Picardo said at a press conference in No.6 Convent Place.
“The high number of people who are in isolation is also having an impact on our services because people who work in front line services are not able to go to work.”
“It is imperative that we increase our measures to stop the virus from spreading.”
The measures announced on Sunday are in addition to those set out in Parliament last week, which include compulsory mask use in all public spaces, the closure of bars and restaurants, and strong advice to work from home wherever possible.
The new measures, which will be in place for at least 14 days, include:
NON ESSENTIAL RETAIL
All non-essential retail establishments will be required by law to close to the public as from tomorrow.
The government will permit operations for deliveries and collections so that an online or telephone trade will be able to continue.
Non-essential shops can continue to sell online and via telephone sales.
Organised collection and delivery will be permitted.
The period for returns and refunds in respect of products bought from November 1 is extended to February 14.
“Obviously, as we are closing businesses, we will be introducing BEAT style payments for the period of closure,” Mr Picardo said.
“We will provide more details in coming days of how to claim, amounts payable etc.”
“We will also be asking landlords to work with us again in respect of rents payable by businesses that are closed.”
Given that there will be greater use of delivery personnel, the government will require all those who undertake deliveries to be swabbed every 2 weeks by law in order that they are screened against delivering with Covid-19.
All essential shops, in particular bakers, grocers and supermarkets must close by 9pm by law, other than duty chemists, in order for there to be ample time for those shopping to be home in time for the curfew.
HAIRDRESSERS & SALONS
All hairdressers and beauty salons will also have to completely close by law as from Monday.
Pharmacies and chemists, petrol stations, bunkering operators, opticians, dentists, estate agents and car dealerships may remain open, subject to continued compliance with strict public health rules.
By law, the number of people who can gather in groups in will be reduced to 12.
The Gibraltar Government also issued “strong advice” that households should not mix at all.
Wherever this is not possible because people live alone, the government said no more than two households should mix, but only where “absolutely necessary”.
“But our advice is that you do not gather at all,” Mr Picardo said.
“We know this is hard, especially at this time of the year.”
“We all want the company, comfort and companionship of our loved and dear ones at this time.”
“But we also want to protect our loved and dear ones at this time.”
“And that is why these restrictions are relevant.”
The government also tightened restrictions on visits to purpose-built government flats for elderly residents.
These will be implemented by the Housing Department.
Visitors will need a negative Covid-19 test at drive through before entry, valid for 24 hours only. There will be maximum of two people permitted for any visit and only one visit per flat per day.
However the government stopped short of locking down people over the age of 70, although the Chief Minister implored them to “to behave as if you were locked down”.
“Our nation is built on your effort,” he said.
“Locking you down would be the very safest route to take.”
“But out of respect for your sense of responsibility, we are not doing so legally.”
“So please do act entirely responsibly.”
“Do not put yourself at risk for a celebration.”
“Stay at home and away from younger relatives if you can.”
There was no new advice on schools at this stage and the measures stopped short of restrictions on daytime movement or movement into Spain, although the advice, again, was for people not to cross the border to do in Spain what they are not allowed to do here.
The Chief Minister warned too that unless the curve of infection was suppressed, additional measures may be necessary in the coming weeks.
"We've left ourselves an element of leeway to go towards a general lockdown if things got worse," Mr Picardo said.
"We have not imposed a general lockdown today."
"We need to keep an eye on where the virus is going. We're always working two weeks behind the virus."
"What we're seeing now is the effect of the virus two weeks ago, that's why we're so concerned about where we're going and why we've taken these additional measures."
"We do hope that the measures we announced last week and the measures that we've announced now will have a cumulative effect that will see us reduce the curve of infections."
"If we don't see that, then we will have to start ratcheting up again."
Mr Picardo said there were no specific triggers that public health officials were looking for before deciding on additional restrictions.
"This isn't a formula that has numbers ascribed to it," he added.
"It's more about multipliers than it is about cases. So we'll be looking at the R number in particular."
"And if we're not able to suppress the R number as we hop to be able to, then we will have to take additional further measures."