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Lockdown extended another month as CM warns of ‘slightly bleaker’ summer ahead

The Gibraltar Government has extended the lockdown in Gibraltar for another month, warning that Covid-19 still poses a grave risk for the community, that social distancing “is here to stay” and that the summer season would be “slightly bleaker” than many are hoping.

Speaking at the daily 4pm press conference, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the government had published regulations extending the general lockdown to May 22, although a “bespoke” exit strategy is being planned to prepare for a slow, carefully-calibrated release in some areas.

The Chief Minister said the measures would be reviewed weekly, as will other stricter restrictions on the over 70s which the government has already signalled it will relax slightly to allow for exercise one hour a day.

He was speaking as the Gibraltar Health Authority confirmed that a new case had been detected overnight, the first in a week, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 133. Of those, 129 are recovered and four remain active, with no patients hospitalised.

“Please do not think that we have beaten the virus,” he said, reminding the public that Gibraltar’s restrictions were “more permissive” than those elsewhere.

“Do not think it is now safe to go out with impunity.”

“It is not.”

“I want to be blunt, clear and honest with you.”

“The virus is out in our community and you would be foolish to relax your attitude to remaining safe indoors because the sun is shining or the numbers of infections detected is low.”

Mr Picardo also highlighted the scale of infections in Spain and the UK, adding that this would be a critical factor as restrictions are loosened in both those countries, as well as on the Rock.

In this context, the Chief Minister revealed a shift in the government’s thinking from recent weeks, during which ministers and health officials have played down the usefulness of screening at entry points and widespread use of masks.

On Tuesday, Mr Picardo said both could “perhaps” be on the cards and that Gibraltar “cannot return to normal for now”.

“It is going to be about living with the virus for now,” he said.

“Social distancing is therefore unfortunately here to stay.”

"That will potentially mean temperature testing at entry points to Gibraltar or entry to businesses being controlled also with temperature access controls or areas of Gibraltar being controlled by temperature access controls.”

“This may also involve guidance on the use of masks going forward.”

“It will likely involve a very different way of going to the beach this summer and it will involve people being encouraged to self-identify if they have the symptoms of the virus and to self-isolate without fear of financial loss when they do so.”

Mr Picardo said public health officials remained unconvinced about the usefulness of screening or the widespread use of of masks, both of which offered only small benefits in preventing the spread of the virus.

But he said it was becoming increasingly clear that in the absence of a vaccine or a cure for Covid-19, "...what you need to do is layer one on top of the other as many obstacles in the way of the virus."

Placing multiple yet "imperfect" hurdles in front of the virus would help slow its spread and detect new cases as soon as possible.

"I think what's happening here is that we're giving up waiting for a panacea, a silver bullet," he said, adding: "It's not coming in time."

"So we have to use all of the blunt instruments that we have, some of them not as blunt as what we've done up to now which is simply to...take a Neanderthal approach to this. We've retreated into our caves while the dinosaur passes outside."

Mr Picardo also signalled that the exit strategy may also involve “very aggressive testing” and “even more aggressive” contact tracing, including imposing self-isolation where necessary in order to isolate new cases.

He revealed too that the government is in talks with the UK Department of Health, Google and Apple via the Foreign Office to see if apps could help support those aims.

Other technologies already in place in Gibraltar, like the GIS and NSCIS systems, might also be used.

Mr Picardo stressed though that for now, nothing had changed and that the summer season was likely to be filled with restrictions, including for beachgoers, although he cautioned it was too soon to know the exact measures that would be in place.

"Going to the beach this summer will be very different to what going to the beach in the past has been," he said.

"We're going to ensure that we bring as much normality to that as possible but it may not be probable that we will be able to do that and that there may have to be mechanisms put in place so that people can visit beaches and have a swim."

Mr Picardo said the size of Gibraltar's beaches meant it would be difficult to maintain social distancing with the usual numbers witnessed in the summer.

And he added: "We're going to have to try and make the best of it, we're going to have to try and ensure people can go and refresh themselves."

"But at the moment, I'm going to be honest, it looks slightly bleaker than usual."

<em>EDITOR'S NOTE: Our reporters are working round-the-clock to bring you the latest news on Gibraltar and the Covid-19 crisis. All our coverage on this critical issue is available free outside the paywall. If you find it useful, please help us reach more people by sharing our journalism. And if you want to support our work further, please consider subscribing to the digital version of our daily newspaper and all our premium online content. You can subscribe <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">via our website</a> or for iOS devices <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">via the iTunes store</a>. Thank you.</em>

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