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PM Johnson reaffirms UK’s commitment to Gibraltar in virus crisis

A cross-border worker enters Gibraltar yesterday morning. As from today, tighter restrictions on movement apply in Spain, but these are not expected to have any major impact on cross-border workers employed in essential sectors that remain open under Gibraltar’s own lockdown rules. By Eyleen Gomez

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reaffirmed the UK’s “full support” for Gibraltar in the fight against Covid-19, initially with an accelerated delivery of personal protection equipment but also additional healthcare staff if necessary.

Transposing the contents of a letter sent to him by Mr Johnson, who last week tested positive for coronavirus, the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the Prime Minister had pledged his government’s backing to the Rock amidst the global health emergency.

The UK will also consider how best it could provide further support if Gibraltar had a serious need for additional healthcare staff, Mr Johnson indicated in his letter.

“The letter, which I received on Saturday, begins with a pledge from Mr Johnson that the UK are committed to standing with us and supporting us during this difficult time,” he said at the 4pm press conference.

“The Prime Minister goes on to explain that despite some inflexible EU regulations, the Secretary of State for International Trade has accelerated the delivery of additional supplies of personal protective equipment to Gibraltar.”

“The letter also notes that Spain has agreed not to hinder the delivery of this equipment. - something of which we were already aware from our direct contacts with the Spanish administration,” Mr Picardo said.

Mr Johnson also offers “clear and unequivocal reassurance” to Mr Picardo that the UK will support the Government of Gibraltar as it navigates the economic consequences of the public health emergency.

“In that respect I should just reflect to you how helpful Governor [Nick] Pyle and his team and CBF [Tim] Henry at British Forces Gibraltar and his team are being with every possible eventuality,” Mr Picardo said.

“The Prime Minister’s letter concludes with the following words, ‘We are facing difficult times ahead; I wanted to end by sending you my personal thanks and best wishes for the task we are facing together.’”

Mr Picardo added: “His pledge of practical and economic assistance are reassuring but, equally important, is the simple fact that, despite having contracted coronavirus himself, he is still thinking about the needs of the people of Gibraltar. I was very touched to receive his letter and I shall reply to tell him so on behalf of all of Gibraltar.”

Addressing some of the wider logistical arrangements put in place to help tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Picardo said the GHA’s Europa Nightingale field hospital is now able to take patients.

“We will continue to work on improving that facility,” he said adding: “But if push had come to shove, we would have been able to take our first patients at the Nightingale Ward today.”

The facility has a 190-bed capacity but this can be scaled up to as much as 300 if necessary.

Again, yesterday Mr Picardo restated the Government’s view that Spain’s tightened lockdown measures, due to commence today, should not have impact on vital cross-border movement of goods and people.

“We don’t expect that tomorrow [for Tuesday] as Spain tightens its controls that there should be any major effect on Gibraltar, there may be teething problems between today and tomorrow,” he said.

“We’ve already ensured that those who are in our essential services have the documentation necessary to be able to prove that they’re coming to Gibraltar for essential purposes and there may be a need for further documentation in the coming days.”

“But let’s be very clear, what Spain is trying to do is exactly the same as Gibraltar is trying to do.”

“We have to help each other in this respect.”

“This is not a frontier issue, this is a mobility issue inside Spain as much as it is in Gibraltar.”

Border traffic has already fizzled out to minimal levels in any event, with just 19,000 people crossing last week according to government data. That number will be even lower now after restrictions were tightened to close down construction sites and non-essential establishments.

At the border yesterday, Anne-Marie Lopez told the Chronicle she was not concerned about being able to get to work as she was working in a shop classed as essential, which include supermarkets, pharmacies and other such outlets under the Spanish rules.

She said she felt anxious at times in her job due to contact with people, but added that most customers were “lovely” and kept social distance.

Maury, another cross-border worker who did not want his surname reported, said he was concerned that, under the new Spanish rules, he might not be able to come to work in Gibraltar.

He was unsure whether his role in the horticultural industry would enable him to cross the border, but added that he had experienced no problems to date.

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