In memo to GHA staff, Director of Public Health sets out coronavirus advice
The Director of Public Health has set out a list of recommendations to help curb the spread of coronavirus should cases be detected in Gibraltar, as he warned it would “not be long” until the virus reaches the Rock.
In an internal memo sent to GHA staff yesterday but circulated widely on social media, Dr Sohail Bhatti urged people to be mindful of their actions in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
With cases confirmed in Spain including as close as Marbella, Dr Bhatti said the GHA has developed plans should any cases be detected in Gibraltar.
But the underlying message throughout his memo was of the need to exercise personal responsibility, exercise thorough hygiene precautions and, where possible, limit close contact with others.
He stressed the community should look after the most vulnerable – those over 70 years – by limiting contact, in particular with grandchildren.
He said children appeared resilient to the virus but could nonetheless spread it.
“It's their grand-parents we need to protect,” Dr Bhatti said in a statement.
“This means NOT visiting them in person as often. Keep in contact with them by phone or any other means except direct contact. We also need to reduce friendly greetings such as kissing, hand-shaking and hugging.”
“It's not rude to avoid passing on germs to your friends and relatives; they should be glad you are showing you care and love in this way.”
“Keep them away from large gatherings where people can spread infections - antibiotics don't work against viruses.”
Dr Bhatti added the GHA is working toward securing testing facilities for coronavirus in Gibraltar, currently tests are sent to a lab in London and due to the heavy demand could take a week to return results.
Other key advice included men to consider shaving their beards so that masks could be fitted if needed.
He described how the GHA working hard to prevent the spread, and is “planning for the worst, but hoping for the best”.
“We in Gibraltar, love and care for our aged relatives,” Dr Bhatti said.
“At this time that means keeping our distance.”
THE GHA MEMO IN FULL
I am conscious that I have been circulating information only to doctors and senior nurses so far. It is certainly time to extend this flow of information to all.
The enemy is panic, and the enemy of panic is knowledge.
I have been consistent in my advice from early in January, that this novel coronavirus will come to Gibraltar, as part of a global pandemic. This is now coming to pass.
Many of the senior staff in the GHA have been actively involved in helping us develop plans for when it does arrive. Given the cases in Marbella, this will not be long now.
Some may be saying: where is the strategy, and where is our engagement? Quite simply: there are no pre-existing plans, because this is a new virus.
Due to the pace of the infection's rapid spread, our plans have developed as circumstances and knowledge about the disease have emerged. In the space of six weeks it has gone from 200 cases to over 85,000.
Yet, we have not been sitting by, doing nothing. Far from it. We have carried out a dry run (twice) involving A&E/Ambulance and CCU. The PCC has also carried out a dry run. All needed to have plans in place that we could test. These are very important exercises and make clear what every person's role is in them. Please get to know your own services plans, and help in their improvement and implementation. We are currently trying to get equipment here to deliver testing locally in Gib, but we have hit problems in terms of availability of equipment and staff training. However, we may have that facility here by the end of March. We have addressed issues in procurement, and I remain keen to involve the Unions.
I have worked with Civil Contingencies in No.6 to help prepare Gibraltar for the arrival of the virus. Again, countless colleagues across many services have helped, giving unstintingly of their time.
We have tried to protect the people of our community from those bringing back the virus by air, sea and land. We know it cannot be perfect, but we have been trying to buy time.
Why? Simply because we will have longer to know more about this disease called COVID-19, and any anti-virals that may work. Now that more than 64 countries have reported cases, we are moving from the phase of containment to one of mitigation: we will need to identify our most vulnerable and help protect them. This largely means our elderly - those over 70 years of age predominantly. Fortunately, children are not harmed, and indeed help spread the virus. It's their grand-parents we need to protect.
This means NOT visiting them in person as often. Keep in contact with them by phone or any other means except direct contact. We also need to reduce friendly greetings such as kissing, hand-shaking & hugging. It's not rude to avoid passing on germs to your friends and relatives; they should be glad you are showing you care & love in this way. Keep them away from large gatherings where people can spread infections - antibiotics don't work against viruses.
We need to remember that coughs and sneezes spread diseases. so we need to Catch it! Bin it! Kill it! and practice hand sanitising/washing religiously. Just washing your hands three times a day can reduce the spread of infection considerably. Imagine if you did it every time you touched a door handle where the virus can stick around for 72 hours we think.
Masks don't work. At best, if you have the virus a mask may stop all your sneezing or coughing hitting everyone else - and only when fully fitted to your face. Please consider temporarily shaving off your beard, gentlemen, so masks can be fitted if needed. It's not fair on our female colleagues to load work onto them that we could do if we didn't have facial hair. We should honour and stand firmly with them, not hide behind them.
You can protect your loved ones by being scrupulously clean. Detergents kill the virus; wipe surfaces including door handles, buttons and keyboards, mice etc., It is in your own best interests.
The virus is not out to get you; you CAN protect yourselves and others by washing your hands and keeping surfaces clean. Check others do it too - you are protecting everyone's grand-parents that way. Give others greetings without touching; that will protect them too. The Church has agreed to limit touching at Mass (sign of Peace) because this message of loving our elders is important to it too. We in Gibraltar, love and care for our aged relatives. At this time that means keeping our distance.
This is only for the short while when the infection is here and spreading. We are planning for the worst, but hoping for the best - a principle well established in emergency planning
Another thing you can do, is to empower yourself with knowledge. Lots of stuff here:
If this is too turgid, Dr John Campbell has been running some excellent daily updates on YouTube:
Our own website is wuhan.gi and any questions relating to COVID-19 can also be sent to email@example.com or by dialling 111 from a Gibraltar phone (prefix of 9 if dialling out from GHA). All these have been setup from scratch in the last few weeks, so apologies as they aren't the polished finished products we would like.
Take care and look after yourselves and the ones you love by acting on this advice with best wishes,
Dr Sohail Bhatti
Director of Public Health