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Govt will be ‘guided by science’ as GSD calls for review of restrictions

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The Gibraltar Government yesterday said it will “continue to be guided by scientific advice” after the GSD said Gibraltar “must now learn to live with Covid” as it called for a review on the rationale of restrictions and the purpose of testing.

The GSD said Gibraltar is in a “different environment to that of 2020” and a successful vaccination programme was “clearly being effective at staving off hospitalisations despite a high level of community infection”.

The GSD said the system of rigorous control of testing which effectively banned self-testing was introduced at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, adding that at this stage self-testing “should be encouraged subject to certain limitations”.

The GSD said the Government’s position on Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) did not take this into account.

This is the latest development in the debate over the provision of LFTs after the Government this week published further details on how it purchased the tests.

Over the past few weeks, the GSD and Together Gibraltar have called for these tests to be readily available for use at home, much as is the case in other countries.

The exchanges between the Government and Opposition parties escalated after local pharmacies were allowed to offer supervised LFTs, with one pharmacy offering these tests at a price of £30.

The Government’s position is that supervised testing offers more reliability.

However LFTs can be easily purchased in Spain for three euros a test, and are available for free to registered NHS users in the UK.

Earlier this week the Government provided details on how it purchases the LFTs for Gibraltar, and told this newspaper these are purchased at a cost of £5.40 each from Francisco Navarro, a commercial pharmacist based in La Linea.

The Government said quick importations were handled by a local agent, namely Basewell Ltd.

The GSD said any existing contractual arrangements which the GHA has in place with suppliers “must clearly deliver value for money to the taxpayer and be transparent”.

“Apart from the obvious point that in today’s market it should be possible for the Government to source reliable tests for less than £5.40 and therefore save the taxpayer money the continuation of current controls ignores the new environment,” the GSD said.

“Self-testing should now be encouraged and allowed because we are not in a place where we are likely going to stamp out Covid anytime soon.”

“We must learn to live with it.”

“Cheap tests are available everywhere in Spain and the UK as well as many other countries in line with this new environment and policy of encouraging community self-awareness.”

The GSD said that the restrictions on the importation of Covid tests should now be reviewed to allow the importation of cheaper LFTs, adding this can be done with certain protections that designate the source of export of the particular tests.

“This would encourage self-testing at no additional cost to the tax-payer,” the GSD said.

“Additionally self-testing should go hand in hand with a requirement that a person who tests ‘positive’ on a self-LFT should submit to a PCR at the Government test centre or at an approved provider.”

“That would allow the Government to retain control of quality assurance, verification of result and information as to positive cases in this community.”

It also called on the rules of self-isolation to be reviewed further after the Government recently announced a reduction to seven days for those who tested positive for Covid-19 following two consecutive negative LFTs on Day 6 and Day 7.

“At any one time we are seeing almost 5% of our population subjected to self-isolation rules,” the GSD said.

“These were designed before the vaccination effort and when the effects of COVID were more likely to lead to higher hospitalisation and the possible collapse of the GHA.”

“This is now not the case and should be reconsidered.”

The GSD said the UK is actively reviewing its own rules and the self-isolation period in England has been reduced to five days.

It added that the UK Government has announced it was scrapping LFTs for the purposes of air travel saying that these had out-lived their purpose.

The UK Prime Minister has also strongly indicated that even positive cases may not need to go into self-isolation in England as from March 24, 2022 saying that he will seek a vote in the UK Parliament for that purpose if possible, the GSD said.

“All that indicates that it is necessary to critically review restrictions that were designed to deal with Covid at a different time,” the GSD added.

“Any restrictions on freedoms should now be responsive to the new post-vaccination environment.”

The GSD said that there may be a case for dealing with certain localised environments such as the ERS or the hospital in a different way given the presence of vulnerable people.

But it said that “even then the restrictions should not do more than is necessary and should not unreasonably prevent family members from visiting their relatives”.

“It is difficult to see why a positive result of a staff member should result in restricted visits to families,” the GSD said.

“Prolonged absence with family contact can have a very detrimental effect on a resident’s well-being.”

“The GSD is receiving expressions of concern from families in that regard and would encourage Government to consider those issues.”

GSD leader, Keith Azopardi, said: “It’s now time to learn to live with COVID and review restrictions that were introduced two years ago even further given that we are in a different post-vaccination environment.”

“That way any measures will reflect the current situation.”

“Managing the Covid issue has always been a dynamic exercise and restrictions should not be in place a moment longer than necessary.”

“Additionally it is important to be responsive to the world of 2022 and therefore adapt restrictions introduced in 2020 that may now be outdated.”

“That doesn’t mean we are over the pandemic but it does mean that we should tailor measures to the environment we find ourselves in at any given time.”

For his part, Elliott Phillips, Shadow Health and Civil Contingencies Minister, said: “The Covid climate has changed and Government’s thinking, whilst informed by public health advice, must adapt to the 2022 scenario.”

“The vaccination programme has been in large measure successful in allowing our community to unlock and live side by side with the virus.”

“It is now time to take a cold hard look at residual measures and question whether they are proportionate and necessary.”

“The Government’s unwillingness to engage positively with the public in allowing widespread use of LFTs at very low costs is just one example of where we could be doing things much better.”

“The other overwhelming concern by many in our community is how we get a grip on restoring all of our primary and secondary health services to something close to pre-Covid levels.”

In his response to the GSD, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: "We continue to monitor the progress of Covid-19 through our community and to take advice on how best to deal with the move from pandemic to endemic in the management of the virus.”

“Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet, although we all wish we were.”

“We need to ensure that we don't drop the ball now and lose control of the spread of the virus in these stages, which we all hope will be the final stages, of the pandemic.”

“We will continue to provide entirely free tests for Covid-19 to our people in a way that continues to provide us the reliable information as to the spread of the virus.”

“We will continue to be guided by the scientific advice."

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