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Slight increase in positive cases as drive-through facility steps up testing

Photo by Brian Reyes

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Gibraltar increased on Wednesday after three consecutive days without change, as testing is ramped up at the drive-through facility and turnaround times for results are reduced.

Figures released by the Gibraltar Government showed that a total of 26 people have tested positive for the virus, of whom 13 have now recovered and 13 remain active.

There are currently no Covid-19 patients in hospital, although one patient admitted to one of the intensive care units at St Bernard’s Hospital for another health matter has been swabbed for the virus and is awaiting results.

“This is a precautionary measure, but this is the plan and we are putting it into practice,” said Dr Krishna Rawal, the acting Medical Director of the Gibraltar Health Authority.

Of the confirmed cases so far, only one has required treatment in hospital.

Factoring in recovered and existing patients, the latest data shows an increase of 11 new cases detected and eight new recoveries between Tuesday and Wednesday, the highest increase in any single day here since the crisis began.

But health officials cautioned about reading too much into the data because tests are still being sent to a Spanish laboratory to be processed and there has been a time lag in recent days due to the huge demand in Spain, which is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe.

In effect, the overnight increase reflects the results of several day’s worth of testing.

In total, 240 tests have been carried out, of which 151 were negative and 58 are still pending results.

There is a discrepancy between the total number of tests and the results statistics because in a very small number of cases, some patients were tested more than once.

The increase was widely expected by the authorities and comes as the GHA opened its drive-through testing facility. Only people with symptoms are being invited to attend the facility but already in two days of operation, some 61 tests have been carried out.

Additionally, the GHA has worked with Spanish laboratories to speed up the testing process, with time lag removed and results now available within 24 hours.

In parallel, the GHA is in the final stages of setting up its own testing facility here in Gibraltar and training staff as necessary.

“We’re aiming to very shortly be completely independent in that respect,” said Health Minister Paul Balban.
In the interim, “we have managed to cut down on the waiting times for the tests sent abroad to 24 hours, which was not the case before.”

In another development, the Gibraltar Government has set up a webpage where people with Covid-19 symptoms can contact the GHA and receive advice online.

The website will be followed in the coming days with an app along the same lines.

“It’s a formal point of contact between the GHA people at home without having to go to hospital or call 111,” said Albert Isola, the Minister for Financial Services and e-Government.

“I think most of the cases will able to be assessed in this way.”

Additionally, the online facility will assist the GHA to collect data to better understand how the disease is moving through the community and so predict any spikes.

“One of the most important things we have to seek is data,” Mr Balban said.

“With this data, it’s possible to calculate and see where owe are on a curve and see how best to tackle any potential surge when it comes.”

The government IT department has also enabled online payments for all government services, while the application form for the BEAT measures to help businesses will be available online as from Thursday morning.

Mr Isola said many civil servants were now working remotely, adding that government IT teams have installed 631 VPN connections for home work, and installed 1,800 Microsoft Team applications alongside that, as well as remote email access for many personnel.

Both ministers thanked the community for following the lockdown rules and said the response had been very good so far.

“People are adhering to the lockdown rules and staying at home, and this greatly encourages us because it means we can keep the vulnerable elderly group safe, and out healthcare workers too,” Mr Balban said.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

The lockdown rules impose restrictions on freedom of movement and a shutdown of retail and construction activity around the Rock, other than for those providing essential services.

Work continues at a number of construction sites, however, and the government said it was applying strict criteria before granting special clearance.

“What we’re trying to so is limit as far as possible the number of people crossing through the frontier,” Mr Isola said, citing for example the retail sector, in which all but essential shops have closed.

A similar strategy is being followed in the construction sector, where the only project cleared to continue are those involving essential works or site employing mostly locally-based workers and where social distancing is possible, for example in exterior works.

“If the workers are coming across the border, then the likelihood is that [those projects] will be rejected,” Mr Isola said.

“Some firms have taken the precaution of housing their workers in Gibraltar, so those projects may be possible.”
“We don’t want them crossing into Spain.”

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