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Govt to close key roads to traffic as Gibraltar eyes greener future after Covid-19

The Gibraltar Government will restrict traffic entering key areas in Gibraltar such as Line Wall Road, Chatham Counterguard and Europort Avenue in order to reduce pollution as it looks to a greener post-Covid future for the Rock.

Traffic will be limited to taxis, buses, residents and blue badge holders accessing Line Wall Road and Europort Avenue, while the closure of traffic to Chatham Counterguard will enable restaurants to extend their terraces as social distancing becomes the norm.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said this will build on his Government’s Walk the Wall project, and will hold consultation with Together Gibraltar’s Marlene Hassan Nahon, whose party had initially presented the idea for a pedestrianised Line Wall Road project in its manifesto at the last general election.

“This is Walk the Wall on steroids and it will work magnificently well as part of Green Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.

He also said the Government is also looking at introducing a charging mechanism in Midtown Car Park.

The Chief Minister said his government could not plan for greener roads while encouraging people to drive by offering free parking in the centre of town.

Appearing at yesterday’s 4pm press conference alongside the Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, the Chief Minister said a full consultation process will be held on the details of the measures.

“We cannot fail to take the good out of the problems this pandemic has visited upon us,” Mr Picardo said.

“The world into which we step out must be a better world for our children.”

“We must now be looking beyond the immediacy of this pandemic and into the future.”

STRATEGY DOCUMENT

Mr Picardo said his Government is currently working on its “Unlock the Rock” document which is broken into six phases and will be published in the coming days setting out a roadmap for a return to a new normality.

This strategy, he said, rests on two key criteria.

The first is that the advice on social distancing and respiratory and personal hygiene should be followed.

The second is “massive" testing, aggressive contact-tracing and enforced self-isolation in order to ensure that any future cluster of the disease does not become a surge.

“We must understand that we cannot go back to what we used to call normal, however much that may be our natural instinct, in particular when the sun shines,” Mr Picardo said.

“A virus, like any other predator, is looking for us to relax our guard.”

The Government is exploring the likelihood of imposing “enforced self-isolation”, which Mr Picardo said was likely to be “coercive.”

This included the possibility of imposing fines, or even imprisonment, on those who refuse to self-isolate for a period of 14 days if they test positive with Covid-19.

The requirement to self-isolate will also likely be extended to those who live in the same household as someone who has tested positive, Mr Picardo said, until they are also tested or until 14 days have passed.

“This may seem draconian, but it will be the only tool available to us if people are irresponsible enough to come into contact with others when they know they are infectious,” Mr Picardo said.

This comes amid concerns that some people were not obeying social distancing measures at the weekend as shops in Main Street opened for business under phase one of the exit strategy.

Mr Picardo said this weekend went well and thanked the law enforcement agencies for their efforts.

But he added that policing the easing of lockdown measures risked a “dystopian” situation that would put huge pressure on police and could have severe repercussions on civil liberties and individuals’ abilities to trade.

Instead, he appealed to individual responsibility and civic duty.

Separately, Dr Bhatti said his team at Public Health Gibraltar had been looking at trends which could trigger certain restrictions being imposed once again.

“We have got such low levels in a population that is very small, so for us five cases, 10 cases, even 20 cases is a significant rise but those 20 cases might represent background noise from a statistical point of view or it could represent 20 cases that are about to go into a big leap,” Dr Bhatti said.

Dr Bhatti said there is “no magic number” and other measures will have to be used other than just the number of cases, such as how many people are admitted into hospital or the prevalence of the disease.

Mr Picardo said any future lockdowns would be based on a combination of statistics and the GHA’s ability to deal with any rise in cases.

“Twenty cases is just going to die away if people maintain social distancing, [but] if they don’t maintain social distancing, 20 people walking down Main Street when it is busy is 200 cases in 10 days time,” Dr Bhatti said.

“I have to say that what happened in terms of good weather, we will see a week later in terms of the number of people that get infected.”

“Fortunately as the number of infections is so low, it is probably not going to going to produce a big spike.”

“Twenty cases when we have low prevalence is nothing, but 20 cases when we have a higher prevalence can be the pre-emptive bit that leads to a big spike, and that is what we have to look out for.”

This comes as there are 11 active cases of coronavirus in Gibraltar. A total of 144 individuals tested positive for Covid-19 and 133 people have made a full recovery so far.

During the random screening done among healthcare and frontline staff, there was not a single case of Covid-19, Dr Bhatti said.

But he encouraged people with Covid-19 symptoms to ring 111 to enable the GHA to “find out how much active infection there is” in Gibraltar.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story quoted the Chief Minister as saying the restrictions would apply to Europort Road. While the quote was accurate, the restrictions being planned are in fact for Europort Avenue and the story has been corrected.