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Latest Covid-19 cases were through ‘community transmission’, lockdown measures continue

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and acting Medical Director Krishna Rawal. Pic: GBC

The two local patients confirmed with Covid-19 earlier this week developed the virus through “community transmission” in Gibraltar, although one has fully recovered and the other, an elderly patient who is hospitalised, is doing “remarkably well”.
Details of the cases were released by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Dr Krishna Rawal, the acting Medical Director of the Gibraltar Health Authority, during the first daily Covid-19 press conference at No.6 Convent Place.
The two latest cases were confirmed on Monday and brought the running total in Gibraltar to three, two of whom have recovered fully and tested negative for the virus. There is a time lag between samples being taken and results being delivered, hence the proximity of the announcement of recovery.
Mr Picardo and Dr Rawal confirmed that neither patient had travelled from Gibraltar recently, meaning they contracted the virus in the community.
“I think it is clear we are dealing with community transmission,” Mr Picardo said.
“We need to be alive to that and that’s why the government has ramped up the response.”
Dr Rawal added that the second patient had recovered after his immunity system fought the virus.
“In the majority of the population, this is the normal course of events,” Dr Rawal told reporters.
The GHA has so far been sending samples to the UK for testing – there are 48 samples still pending – but has now received equipment to enable it to conduct the tests in-house.
Dr Rawal said the GHA expects to be able to handle tests in Gibraltar within the next week or so, after which results will be available on the same day.
There are no plans for community-wide testing, however, with the focus on people who have symptoms.
“If we mass test at any one particular time, there will be a significant proportion of the population who may already have an in-built immunity, or who may have had and have already fought the virus off,” Dr Rawal said.
“What we would then do is stretch our resources significantly by mass testing not necessarily for a benefit.”
“What we’re doing is we’re working on clinical need so that we can always keep our resources for those who develop symptoms and those who are sickest.”
The Chief Minister and Dr Rawal outlined too the additional resources that the GHA had acquired since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in China earlier this year.
At the start of the outbreak, the GHA had just five intensive care beds fitted with ventilators, a number that has now increased to 24.
Postponement of other GHA services in St Bernard’s Hospital has freed up staff to ensure that the intensive care ward can be fully staffed to cope with a surge in demand.
Additionally, the GHA is continuing to try to secure additional equipment but given the global demand, this can prove difficult and slow.
Mr Picardo said this was the core reason underpinning the government’s message to the community to help slow the spread of the virus in order to ensure the GHA’s capacity was not overwhelmed.
“There is no public health system in the world that is able to deal with the sorts of numbers that could come at avalanche if we don’t flatten this curve, if we don’t somehow blunt the angle of attack of this virus,” he said.
To cover a worst-case scenario that everyone is trying to avoid, the GHA has also put in place plans for field hospitals and additional capacity to care for people at different stages and thus ease pressure on the ventilators available in intensive care.
“But I want to be very blunt about this,” Mr Picardo said.
“It may be that we have more people needing intensive care than we are able to provide intensive care for, and that is what has happened in every developed economy in the world.”
Alongside the stark warning to older members of this community to remain at home and protect themselves, however, the GHA has also remained younger residents that for most people, Covid-19 is a relatively mild illness.
Dr Rawal said this was a new virus and cautioned that there was therefore a degree of uncertainty when assessing its behaviour, but he said most people would just “just cough and sniff you way through your day”, just like with any seasonal flu.
But he stressed too that this was “a high consequence disease”, adding: “It may seem minor, but for those in the target group it can have a very severe impact.”
That was a message underscored by the Chief Minister, who said there was no contradictions between the stark warnings on the one hand, and the need to remain calm and not fear the virus on the other.
“We are all agents of the spread of the virus, so we have to stop the spread of the virus for fear of what it does to the over 70s, not for fear of what it does on each of us,” Mr Picardo said.
“The message has to be very stark to the over 70s, and the message has to be stark to all of the community about what we do to protect the over 70s and stop the spread.”
“It’s almost as if the virus had drawn a line in the age group given the data that we have from China and Italy.”
ECONOMIC IMPACT
Mr Picardo also outlined the economic measures announced earlier this week to help businesses in sectors that have already been hit by restrictions on opening hours.
But he said too that “this is going to spread” to other areas of the economy and that the government was preparing additional measures to help businesses ride out the storm of the lockdown period, as well as stimulate economic activity for recovery after that.
Mr Picardo said the likelihood was that the world, and Gibraltar with it, would enter a period of recession, and that the Gibraltar Government was planning accordingly.
“What we need to do is calibrate something that has sufficient generosity to ensure that out businesses are able to continue trading or are ready to restart trading when the time comes,” he said.
“And sufficient generosity that the employees of those businesses are able to see that during the period in which we are de facto lockdown, they have the ability to go to the supermarket and provide for their families.”
“And then at the end of that process, that we are able to see a stimulus package put in place that sees the economy take off once again.”