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Phased release from lockdown signals 'a new way of living'

Alice Mascarenhas

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo announced a series of measures on Thursday to begin releasing Gibraltar from lockdown restrictions, warning that it would be a slow, careful process.

In doing so, he appealed to the community’s common sense as Gibraltar inches back to a semblance of normality and “a new way of living” with the virus.

Mr Picardo stressed that the general lockdown would remain in place and that core advice remained to stay at home wherever possible and follow public health guidelines on hygiene and social distancing.

The virus, he said, remained a severe threat to Gibraltar, and this new phase of Gibraltar’s response to Covid-19 would prove more challenging than the previous eight weeks.

But the Chief Minister announced too that certain sectors of the economy that had been shut down by the lockdown would now be allowed to resume operation, albeit with strict conditions in place.

Likewise the Gibraltar Health Authority will step up its efforts to resume routine medical services that had been put on hold due to the focus on preparing to tackle the impact of the virus.

The restrictions would be lifted “gradually, prudently and asymmetrically”, he said.

The decision to start releasing the restrictions reflects the uncomfortable reality that while the lockdown has so far protected Gibraltar, it could cause significant economic damage if prolonged.

Likewise the GHA’s focus on on its Covid-19 response risked a detrimental knock-on impact on people’s health in other areas.

Speaking at the daily 4pm press conference in No.6 Convent Place, Mr Picardo acknowledged that the “fluid, not rigid” relaxation of lockdown regulations would likely increase community infections of Covid-19.

But he added that a new aggressive focus on testing, tracing and isolating new cases would help to mitigate that impact.

“For that reason, the pace of relaxation of the lockdown will have to be gradual,” he said.

“It will have to be prudent. It will have to be closely controlled.”

“And social distancing will be here to stay for the foreseeable future.”

And he added: “There is no ‘off switch’ that can be pressed that will provide a safe and secure immediate return to ‘normality’ as it was before the lockdown.”

Each step to release elements of the lockdown will be followed by a three-week pause to assess its effect, providing sufficient time for new cases to incubate and present symptoms.

Large scale random testing will be carried out in each of the sectors which are being eased open.

EASED RESTRICTIONS

Under the new measures, shops which have been closed by the regulations will be able to re-open as from Saturday May 2.

In order to re-open, retailers will need to put in place measures to comply with the rules of social distancing.

“This may mean that fewer people can be inside a shop at any one time and queuing outside must be properly managed also,” he said.

Where rules of social distancing cannot be observed, masks will have to be worn by staff, and each shop will have to provide sanitiser gels.

Additionally, opening hours will be restricted to 10am to 5.30pm.

Asked about the practical impact of implementing these measures and ensuring adequate social distancing, Mr Picardo said the emphasis would be on civic duty and individual responsibility.

"You cannot police common sense," he said, although he did not rule out sanctions if need be.

"We are talking about protecting each other."

As from Saturday, estate agents will also be able to open for business, including visits to properties as long as social distancing rules are observed and masks used where possible.

From Monday May 4, self-contained constructions sites will also be able to resume activity after obtaining a permit setting strict conditions on access and operation.

Constructions workers will not be allowed to leave the site during working hours and conditions will be in place for cross-border workers, including the use of masks where necessary and temperature controls of all employees on a daily basis.

Any employee who registers a high temperature will have to be tested and will have to self-isolate until test results are available.

Minor works inside homes and office buildings will not be permitted.

Shipbuilding and ship repair activity will also be allowed to resume from Wednesday May 6, agains with similar conditions in place on social distancing and public health measures including temperature screening.

Mr Picardo announced too that hair dressers and beauticians will be able to resume service as from Saturday May 2, albeit only by appointment.

Persons providing hairdressing and beautician services will be required to wear masks in order to minimise the possibilities of potentially, unwittingly transmitting infections to clients, and strict hygiene rules will be implemented.

The Chief Minister said gymnasiums will remain closed for now but personal trainers will be able to resume work as from Saturday if training sessions are held outdoors.

Restaurants, bars and cafes will remain closed for now other than for takeaway business, and there are no plans at present to allow nightclubs to reopen.

In healthcare, the GHA call patients on waiting lists in order to assess urgency before appointments are offered for any necessary medical interventions.

In order to further assist businesses to recover, Mr Picardo said the BEAT Covid measures offered in April will also be available in May.

Additionally, some similar measures are being finalised to help businesses excluded from the first tranche of aid.

The Gibraltar Government intends to publish a document with greater detail on the measures to “unlock the Rock” in the coming days, Mr Picardo said, adding that he had discussed the plan with the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi.