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Recovery is a ‘long and painful’ road

Recovery from Covid-19 will be “long and painful”, the Civil Contingencies Coordinator, Ivor Lopez, said as he outlined the complex nature of dealing with the virus outbreak.

Across the globe, governments are facing a new crisis the like of which has not been witnessed in over a century, and Mr Lopez has been planning for the Rock’s future response to this threat.

Teams of civil servants have changed roles and stepped up to the new challenge and Mr Lopez, along with his team, has planned many of the measures that are now in place.

But the road ahead is unknown both in Gibraltar and globally as researches race to develop a vaccine about a virus that science still knows little about.

Until then, plans and procedures including the current lockdown are reviewed daily, and at times hourly, to ensure the best outcome for Gibraltar.

Mr Lopez told the Chronicle the recovery is likely to take a long time, drawing parallels with the recovery following the Grenfell Tower fire in London which has taken three years.

“It all depends how this affects us,” Mr Lopez said. “It hasn’t affected us in terms of deaths, so the focus will be more on the economy and how it will recover.”

He added there are other sectors that could be hit harder such as mental health support.

“It is difficult to judge how long it will take and we will need to take a view of what is happening elsewhere,” he said.

For now, Gibraltar has seen no deaths due to Covid-19, but remains braced for future developments.

“What better dress rehearsal than this one?” Mr Lopez said.

“We need to be prepared that that could come, and we have all seen the images of what has happened in the rest of Europe.”

He added: “At least the structures are there for us to able to press a button and respond to it.”

The measures implemented to combat the virus are crucial to stem its spread and much of what has been implemented has followed advice from the Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti.

“It is still a very young virus and there is still much information to go through, but it is a question that we are making sure we are looking: at how best to be in control of this,” Mr Lopez said.

“Even if there is some easing of the tap to allow society to function, we still have to have the ability to be able to close things and take control.”

“That is all the work that is ongoing, even though we are still in the response stage we are also keeping an eye and working on the restart and recover, but still retaining that control of getting back to the situation.”

“We are still early on. Fine, we haven’t had any major increase in terms of cases, but it’s something that we just need to be conscious could very quickly change, and we need to respond to that.”

Mr Lopez thinks as Gibraltar has been able to work quickly and follow new advice, it has so far evaded scenes witnessed in other countries.

“Just because you have a plan, it doesn’t mean it will work and I think that was the problem in other countries,” he said.

“They dusted off the pandemic plans and closed the schools. Closing the schools is fine if you have a virus that affects everyone equally.”

“But in terms of Covid-19, we very quickly knew that it was targeting the most vulnerable and therefore you need to be quite flexible and pragmatic to come up with the plans which are specific to [this virus].”

Mr Lopez said civil contingency planning also needed to be prepared for any other major incident that could take place.

He added that just because Gibraltar is facing Covid-19 does not mean other major incidents could not happen at any time.

Mr Lopez forms part of at least 10 meetings a day where all matters regarding Gibraltar and Covid-19 are discussed.

“The emergency services are key because we also need to make sure that we are able to continue to function as a society and be able to deal with all these major events concurrently as well,” he said.

Some 110 households have been registered as vulnerable and are being supported by the government.

The response teams’ work includes delivery of food and medicine to those in need and the team is ready to transport the sick if needed.

“We are there to provide support to the most vulnerable of people,” Mr Lopez said.

He added that this is a lifeline for people and. where possible. those in self-isolation should ask for help from friends and family before calling the helpline number 200 41818.

“This is all under the umbrella of the Care Agency,” he said.

Civil Contingencies Officer Ernest Danino added that the contingencies team was key in organising many of the platforms now used in the Covid-19 effort.

“We are six weeks in and we [recently] got a call from the Moroccan Community Association that there were three elderly people [in need],” Mr Danino said.

Despite efforts from the government to raise awareness of the assistance offered for those in need, some in the community are unaware due to language barriers, age and lack of access to news outlets.

Some 1,130 people have signed up to volunteer for the Covid-19 response, of which 600 have been vetted.

“They are the ones doing the deliveries for everything else apart from the most vulnerable who are the response teams,” Mr Lopez said.

“There are people who need medication to be delivered and they are calling 41818,” he said.

From there, Lizanne Peralta and her team can quickly request a volunteer to deliver the item.

He added mental health support is key for the community and a mental welfare support team were focusing on building resilience in the frontline.