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GSD urges fast exit strategy, but Govt warns ‘no time to let guard down’

Eyleen Gomez

The GSD has urged the Gibraltar Government to review its Unlock the Rock roadmap with a view to restoring further freedoms at a faster pace.

This comes as the Government set out new restrictions on restaurants despite there currently being zero active cases of Covid-19 in Gibraltar.

But the government countered that accelerating unlocking was “neither prudent nor sensible.”

The GSD’s comments were contrary to public health advice, No.6 Convent Place added.

The Unlock the Rock document envisaged full Unlock on August 1 against a backdrop that there would likely be active cases at that point and that the virus would have to be managed for the foreseeable future.

The reason that there were different phases of the unlocking programme was to manage the restoration of freedoms so that the numbers of active cases would not surge, the government said.

For the GSD though, the process should be speeded up.

“If we are at zero cases now then why not bring forward the restoration of further freedoms, access to further public services and full Unlock to early or mid- July?” the GSD said in a statement.

The party added that the strategy document itself recognised the principle of dynamic review in response to circumstances and how, in his foreword, the Chief Minister accepted that the road map might change and that “…some of the changes we envisage may be accelerated [while] others may have to be reversed or slowed down further.”

The Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said: “The lockdown was eased on 2 May with the opening of shops and the social lockdown ending on 21 May.”

“Restaurants re-opened with partial capacity on 1 June. All those moments in the unlock process could have caused a surge of cases and so a gap was justified between them.”

“The fact that the border has now been open for residents in both directions for a week also adds a new dimension.”

“In fact we have seen that there has only been a relatively small number of new confirmed cases since 2 May with the number of active cases in Gibraltar now down to zero.”

“The Government itself made clear on Tuesday that there has only been one symptomatic positive case of Covid-19 in a month with most other cases picked up in random testing.”

“The number of tests has now grown significantly and this is an important monitor on the state of Covid in Gibraltar.”

“Additionally, the small number of persons detected with antibodies in the sample of antibody tests indicates the prevalence of Covid in the community may be quite small.”

“The number of cases may grow but the Unlock document itself made clear that the overall danger point was 1000 active cases and that for restrictions to be reintroduced there would need to be a persistent daily increase in key indicators to trigger alarm.”

“None of that is currently the case. The scenes at Chatham Counterguard which have been widely reported do cause concern because it indicates over exuberance with some people not respecting social distancing recommendations.”

“But these issues are not addressed by the blunt instrument of introducing a cap of midnight on restaurants.”

“The majority of these have been functioning well since 1 June and the number of active cases does not justify further restrictions. What there needs to be is broad respect of new norms of behaviour.”

“The real debate that needs to be had is whether some of the current restrictions are proportionate given the current fact that there are no active Covid cases. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the Unlock Road Map was drafted in April.”

“This neither envisaged nor required that the number of active cases would be negligible. The steps and timescales envisaged then need to be kept in dynamic review to see what continues to be justified.”

“In the same way that there would need to be greater controls if Covid returns in numbers the lifting of restrictions should be positively reviewed if the situation is so controlled that restricting commercial and individual freedoms is no longer proportionate.”

‘There was for example a social gathering restriction introduced on 21 May when the lockdown ended by which people could not gather in groups of more than 12.”

“We consider there is a case to now review this rule by enlarging the social bubble and advance further planned steps.”

“These decisions need to take account of public health advice and respond to the situation in which Gibraltar finds itself or could reasonably find itself.”

“We will need to continue to be vigilant and act if new clusters emerge in future. But this should not hold back the restoration of further freedoms.”

But the Gibraltar Government said the exit strategy must be guided by public health advice, not what is popular, and that it was no time to relax Gibraltar’s guard against future infection.

The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “We have been very lucky so far that, in keeping with the prudent design of the various unlocking phases, we have zero active cases in Gibraltar.”

“The latest key stage of this was, in the Government’s view, the loosening of restrictions at the border with Spain a week last Friday.”

“We are keeping a close eye on cases and continuing with our aggressive testing plan to ensure that we can keep a lid on any future emergence of the virus in Gibraltar, something we consider inevitable.”

“The Government remains committed to doing what it must to control the spread of the virus in Gibraltar.”

“This is the reason why, in response to the scenes witnessed at Chatham Counterguard last weekend, the Government took the unpopular but correct decision to impose a curfew of midnight on all establishments, with immediate effect.”

“Imposing a midnight curfew is not the only action we have taken, given the scenes widely reported on Friday.”

“Following a meeting called by the Office of Civil Contingencies on Tuesday, officers of the Environmental Agency have met with all establishments at Chatham Counterguard and all of them will be written to in order to remind them of their obligations.”

“The Environmental Agency is working closely with the Royal Gibraltar Police in relation to an enforcement strategy: any establishment that does not adhere to the rules and conditions in its permit risks its withdrawal.”

“The Government has to continue to do the right thing and not fall into the trap of just doing the popular thing, as the GSD already seems to be doing.”

“As it stands the rules on gatherings of no more than 12 is being renewed on the advice of Public Health Gibraltar after lengthy discussions of the coordinating group.”

“This was not a decision that was taken lightly. These rules will be renewed for 30 days but reviewed on the 29th June.”

“The Official Opposition has, in one breath, complained about the scenes at Chatham Counterguard and in the next breath is advocating for a further and faster relaxation of the rules and limitations necessarily imposed on our people.”

“This is highly contradictory and we cannot afford this lack of logical consistency on this issue at this stage.”

“This lack of consistency sends mixed signals, making yet harder a situation which is already a challenge.”

“Compliance with the rules and restrictions is a critical component of our continuing battle with Covid and it is our hope that the Opposition might move to rationalise their position in this regard and maintain a consistent line during the coming weeks and months.”

“The war with Covid is far from over. We cannot let our guard down. Zero cases is a good reason to complete the path we embarked on in April and not a reason to allow complacency to lead us into recklessness.”

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