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No change in virus cases, but Cortes warns Gibraltar 'is on the cusp' of a spike

Screengrab for GBC footage of press briefing.

Gibraltar is on the cusp of a hike in the number of people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 and its hospitals will fill, the Minister for Public Health Dr John Cortes said this afternoon, in a sobering message that sought to prepare the community for difficult days ahead despite no change in the number of cases already detected.

The number of confirmed cases was static for a third consecutive day at 10 and five have fully recovered, but Dr Cortes said an increase in positive cases was inevitable over the coming days.

Some 61 samples are still pending and sampling is expected to increase as the Rooke drive-through testing facility becomes operational in the comings days.

Dr Cortes said: “We’ve been lucky so far in keeping it relatively at bay, but we must not be surprised when we see increases in cases and hospitalisation in the coming days and weeks.”

“It is to be expected. It's coming and we are ready,” he said.

“We will have many more cases and we will fill the hospital and we will have people needing intensive care and we will more than likely have deaths,” he added.

The Director of Public health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, said GHA staff had taken 630 calls on the 111 line in the last week, indicating that “the virus is amongst us”.

“We do anticipate that someone will fall critically ill in the next few days, that’s sobering, and I’m also minded that the number of new infections we’re thinking something like four or five dozen have taken place just today,” he said.

“So it is prevalent amongst us,” he added.

“The sign that I’m looking for is admissions to hospital and admissions to ICU.”

“The anticipation is that things will rapidly escalate, we’re just waiting for that wave of people.”

“I can hear in my apartment coughing next door so clearly there’s a lot of the virus around, but it’s not a bad disease at the moment in time,” Dr Bhatti said, explaining the problem lies with those in already “fragile” health.

“The issue is not the virus, the issue is the harm that the virus causes by overwhelming the health system,” he said.

In preparation for this expected escalation of cases, St Bernard’s will have some 150 beds available for acute cases once elderly patients are transferred to Mount Alvernia and Bella Vista within the next few days.

A field hospital with capacity for at least 192 beds at the Europa Sports Hall will complement the key medical facilities at St Bernard’s hospital and be resourced with care assistants, possibly from the UK.

Dr Cortes estimated that the GHA had recovered between 40 and 50 ventilators having released respiratory equipment by cancelling non-urgent surgeries.

On the prospect of a lockdown Dr Cortes said this “may well come” as a means of giving legal backing to “sensible behaviour” at this time.

Nonetheless, he said people had heeded the Chief Minister’s warning on Friday and the “idiots stayed at home”, as the RGP reported no weekend gatherings.

He restated the importance of keeping Gibraltar’s over-70’s safe and said: “The way to get through this, to decrease the loss of our loved ones is to isolate them as much as possible and more, I can’t stress this enough.”

“The rest of the population; most of us will get through it, develop an immunity so it will be safe for the elderly again and safer for us all. And while we wait for vaccines and antivirals to develop we must keep them safe, we must protect them.”

Dr Bhatti explained that contact tracing following Gibraltar’s first established case established that the virus was already “out in the wilds”.

Additionally, Dr Bhatti explained a blood test was being developed by Public Health England which will determine who is immune to Covid-19.

“That will be really transformative for us because we could then identify people who are immune and we could deploy them in all our critical services,” he said.

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