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Picardo announces 'total social lockdown' from Tuesday

Gibraltar will go into "total social lockdown" as from 12.01 am on Tuesday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said on Sunday, as he announced measures to shut all but essential retail shops and bring most construction work to a halt.

The lockdown rules tighten the measures that are already being followed on a voluntary basis by most of the population and give the Royal Gibraltar Police the power to enforce the restrictions if need be.

The lockdown comes as the number of cases in Spain surges and the Spanish Government prepares to extend it own restrictions by another 15 days.

Spain's death toll from coronavirus soared to 1,720 on Sunday from 1,326 the day before, according to latest data from the Health Ministry.

The one-day rise in deaths of 394 was higher than the previous day's increase of 324. Spain is grappling with Europe's second-worst coronavirus outbreak.

In Gibraltar, five more cases of Covid-19 were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to 15, of whom five are already recovered and another five are soon to be recovered. Two of the cases have been admitted to St Bernard's Hospital.

"As we have seen, the number of persons diagnosed with this cruel disease in Gibraltar creep up, we have noted the sharp increase in persons diagnosed sadly, also in Spain," Mr Picardo said.

"The Director of Public Health has now advised that as the virus is in the population,the best way to achieve the social distancing required is to slow the disease to move to a total social lock down."

Speaking at the daily press conference in No.6 Convent Place, Mr Picardo said the measures would put Gibraltar's economy into "an induced coma".

To mitigate that impact, the government, working hand-in-glove with the Covid Economic Liaison Committee, will prepare tailor-made packages to help businesses ride out the crisis and protect employee jobs wherever possible.

The measures do not impose a total ban on movement, with people still allowed to leave their homes for essential purposes including buying food or medicines.

People will also be allowed to leave home to go to work in offices, although most businesses have already enabled their staff to work remotely.

Given the fact that most Gibraltarians live in small apartments, the rules will also allow for people to leave their homes to exercise as long as they follow strict steps to ensure social distancing.

The decision to step up the shutdown across the Rock was taken at a Cabinet meeting this morning also attended by Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition. It is enacted through a regulation issued under the Civil Contigencies Act.

Mr Picardo said the new rules amounted to “an intolerable intrusion” into the right to liberty, adding that agreeing to it was “undoubtedly the hardest decision” of his political career and that of his Cabinet.

“But these extraordinary times require extraordinary action,” he said.

“And we have not hesitated to act when required.”

“We will not hesitate to do what we have to do in order to slow the spread of the virus.”

“I know it will be hard also for you.”

Mr Picardo urged all businesses that could to operate from home if possible, and said that while the restrictions allowed for some freedom of movement under certain conditions, it was vital to limit time outside and to abide by strict social distancing.

As from 12.01am on Tuesday, all shops in the retail sector must close. The only exceptions are supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies and chemists.

Delivery drivers will continue to deliver and while construction sites will shut down, some exceptions may be approved by the Chief Technical Officer.

Commercial gyms will also shut as from Tuesday, Mr Picardo said as he also dismissed a “foolish, unfounded” rumour that multiple patrons of a local gym had been infected with the virus.

The rules also allow people to go outside for a walk or for exercise, including children as long as they are with parents and exercising social distance from others.

“You must not be out and about other than with a person who already lives in the same property as you,” Mr Picardo said.

On Tuesday, schools will open for children of those registered in the key worker scheme.

The lockdown rules will be reviewed every 48 hours and will initially last for 30 days.

“As from Tuesday, observe the rules that we have made to protect you,” the Chief Minister said.

“Be out as little as you have to. Get home as quick as you can.”

“An invisible killer lurks amongst us and you can do your bit to slow its passage through our city by observing these rules.”

ECONOMIC MEASURES

The CELAC met on Saturday and was due to meet again on Sunday evening to prepare a range of economic packages designed to help businesses and workers alike to ride out the Covid-19 storm.

Key among those initiatives is a legislative measure designed to allow businesses to “pause” employment, thus enabling their employees to claim unemployment benefit and leave their PAYE and social insurance history intact when when the situation returns to normality.

The system is similar to mechanisms that already exist in the UK and Spain.

On Saturday Mr Picardo discussed this step and the importance of maintaining frontier fluidity despite the restrictions with Spain’s Minister for the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

Mr Grande-Marlaska “…was very supportive of the actions we are taking in Gibraltar and of the need for the frontier to continue to flow for our workers,” Mr Picardo said.

The employment measure is important because thousands of cross-border workers are employed in Gibraltar’s retail and construction sectors.

It will allow those workers to stay at home at a time when cases are rising in Spain, while providing them with “a direct economic lifeline” and ensuring they have jobs to return to in due course. It will also ease the salary and social insurance burden on local employers.

In parallel, maintaining frontier fluidity will enable those cross-border workers in key sectors such as health and care to continue to attend their places of work.

“Our position is clear: we will design a package to provide a shield around our businesses and our workers,” Mr Picardo said.

“No one will suffer.”

“We have been here designing packages that have no red tape and are meaningful, all through the weekend,” Mr Picardo said.

“Our work is being designed so that no business will find it has to go to the wall.”

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