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Two new virus cases as CM issues stark warning about challenges ahead

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo last night underscored the vital need to follow public health advice in order to ease pressure on Gibraltar’s healthcare services, as two new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Gibraltar.

In a broadcast address on GBC, Mr Picardo said the Gibraltar Health Authority and other essential services had worked relentlessly in recent weeks to prepare additional facilities and resources to deal with a surge in demand expected over the coming weeks.

But in his starkest warning yet to this community, the Chief Minister made no effort to minimise the scale of what lies ahead as he warned that many people in Gibraltar would die in the coming weeks.

The government has passed legislation to prohibit those aged over 70 from leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary, a move designed to help protect the most vulnerable in this community.

The decision, which curtails fundamental rights, was taken following the advice of the Attorney General, Michael Llamas, QC, and in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, QC, signalling the constitutional gravity of the move.

Most Picardo reminded the community that “most if not all” people under 70 who contracted the virus would recover, adding that the only patient before yesterday had fully recovered and his partner had repeatedly tested negative for Covid-19.

“But we should be clear in understanding that not all cases will have such happy endings,” he said.

And he added: “I want to be clear with all our citizens, that given the patterns we have seen in other countries, whatever we do, vulnerable people will die of this virus.”

“We will not be able to stop that. We cannot stop the wind and we cannot stop the tide.”

“The government cannot stop this virus. Pretending to do so would be untrue and I will not lie to you.”

“We are at war with a hidden killer that preys on our elderly and most vulnerable.”

“There is no earthly power that can presently stop it. But we are taking measures to slow it down.”

“Avoiding spikes in infection will mean we have more resources when needed to treat people.”

“Please understand that slowing down the spread of this disease could make the difference between our having the resources and ability to save your loved ones or having to let them die.”

Mr Picardo said no healthcare system in the world could provide intensive care on the scale that would be required.

For that reason, it was vital for everyone to follow the advice of public health professionals to self-isolate if they showed any of the potential symptoms of the virus, which include fever, coughing, runny nose or shortness of breath.

He also impressed on the elderly to abide by the new regulation and stay at home, while also urging others in the community to follow suit wherever possible in order to minimise social contact.

“If we do not follow this advice and these measures, more of our people will die,” he said.

Mr Picardo outlined too the measures that the GHA had put in place, which include a 500% increase in the number of intensive care beds.

The GHA now also has an intensive care unit solely for Covid-19 patients and another for general ICU admissions.

A ward has also been prepared solely for suspect cases of Covid-19 and an isolation facility ready.

The GHA has sufficient beds in the hospital for an initial surge in patient numbers and will have a field hospital ready by the end of the week.

“We have more than doubled the number of beds available for when the worst part of the surge comes,” Mr Picardo said.

“So we are ready.”

The Chief Minister thanked the community for standing by the government and the essential services by supporting the restrictive measures that have been implemented and which had led to widespread disruption of community life.

And he urged Gibraltar to brace for difficult times ahead, including in the darkest of moments.

“As we move forward, and as we lose many loved ones and friends, do not attend mortuaries,” he said.

“If you are not a close relative of the deceased, do not attend funerals.”

“Those are the places where the virus spreads the most, as if it were preying on our grief.”

“I know this will be emotionally difficult.”

“But it will be even harder if we do not observe these basic rules and the basic rules of hygiene we are constantly repeating to you.”

The Chief Minister said that for now, schools would remain open but that this was a decision that would be kept under constant review.

He underscored too the need to abide by the restrictions imposed in Spain as a result of the state of emergency there, urging Gibraltarians not to travel there unless covered by any of the exemptions set out in the Spanish legislation.

Mr Picardo also announced a series of measures aimed at helping local businesses affected by the Covid-19 restrictions imposed over the past week.